Also called atopic dermatitis, eczema is a relatively common skin condition that causes red, itchy rashes on various parts of the body. Many people suffer from eczema, however, as advancements in medical and dermatological research are made, individuals with atopic dermatitis may be able to get lasting relief. Read on to learn more about this common allergic skin disease and how to treat it.
What is Eczema?
Eczema is a skin condition that most typically appears in early childhood and can be caused by a number of factors. Recently, however, scientists have hypothesized that atopic dermatitis is rooted in genetic predisposition. “Leaky skin” or a porous skin barrier, causes moisture loss creating itchy, dry skin.
Half of all eczema patients also suffer from other allergies, including hay fever and asthma. They also may be more prone to food allergies, which can incite an eczema flare-up.
Atopic dermatitis can affect anyone, however, a greater percentage of children suffer from this skin disease – nearly 10 – 20% of all children. Only 1-3% of adults have this chronic skin condition and have found that avoiding certain allergens can drastically reduce flare-ups.
Risks and Symptoms of Atopic Dermatitis
While eczema isn’t necessarily life-threatening it can drastically impact everyday life. Atopic eczema not only causes discomfort and itchiness on various parts of the body – including the scalp, elbows, and knees – but can rub against clothing, active gear, and more, making it difficult to participate in certain workplace or fitness activities.
Itching the rash is hard not to do, especially for young children dealing with atopic dermatitis. Finding the right antihistamine for a child suffering from eczema may take time and, in the interim, the child may succumb to severely itchy skin. Scratching can cause open wounds, leaving that individual at a higher risk for skin infections, red marks, and scarring.
Some people may develop scaly skin where eczema breakouts last for long periods of time or where they have itched repeatedly. For some, an eczema breakout is unsightly and embarrassing, affecting an individual’s mental health. During a severe eczema break out, one may be inclined to stay inside, cancel plans, and call out of work.
The most common symptom of eczema is a red, blotchy rash that can appear anywhere on the body but most commonly crops up on the scalp, knees, elbows, and skin folds. This rash spurs extreme itchiness, leading to painful red scratch marks and occasionally open wounds.
Depending on one’s allergies, hives and welts may appear after ingesting certain foods or drinks. Having eczema makes this allergic reaction worse yet sensitivity to allergens may change over time.
One should consult a dermatologist at the first sign of eczema. Prolonged flare-ups without treatment can cause undue pain and suffering, increase the likelihood of developing scaly skin or lead to the creation of scars from rubbing and itching.
Treatment Options and Long Term Effects
Fortunately, there are plenty of treatments for eczema. From at-home remedies to medical options that attack the source of the rash, there are ample ways to find relief from severe eczema and itchy skin.
Home Treatment Options
- Take warm baths with nourishing oils and oatmeal. Warm water can soothe itchy skin whereas hot water tends to dry out the epidermis. Infuse the water with hydrating body oils like jojoba or coconut oil or use an oatmeal bath treatment specifically formulated to help diminish symptoms of eczema.
- Moisturize often. Apply lotion within minutes of bathing or showering to lock in moisture. Carry travel size, heavy-duty moisturizers with you and continue to reapply throughout the day, especially for those living in dry climates. Moisturizing dry, scaly patches can help soften the skin and prevent long term scarring.
- Wear high quality, soft fabrics. Eliminating all allergens can help reduce the risk of a flare-up. Consider the clothing you wear and swap out synthetic, harsh materials for soft, natural fabrics. Ensure the laundry detergent you’re using is all-natural as well.
- Use a humidifier. Those living in dry, cold climates should use a humidifier at night to keep the air in their room moist and less irritating.
- Use natural products. Select organic and fragrance-free skincare products to minimize the risk of having an allergic reaction or skin flare-up. Chemicals have a tendency to promote dryness in the long run, which can trigger an atopic dermatitis reaction.
- Choose gentle cleansers. Cleaning components in many standard soaps and cleaners are laden with irritants. Opt for mild soaps, fragrance-free home cleaning products, and the like to create a healthier space that is gentler on the skin.
- Trim fingernails. Keep the nails short and filed so as not to cause additional scarring and irritation when itching.
Consult with a Dermatologist
Doctors can help patients deal with chronic eczema via a number of prescription medications and over-the-counter effective treatments. These include:
- Topical corticosteroids. Over-the-counter and prescription topical corticosteroids are available but a dermatologist will be better able to recommend what you may need for your specific situation. Hydrocortisone is one such example of a lotion-based steroidal cream that can improve eczema conditions quickly and effectively.
- Systemic corticosteroids. If the topical application of steroidal creams fails to heal the affected skin, a dermatologist may prescribe oral tablets. These drugs can affect the immune system and cause a host of additional symptoms and should be closely monitored by a medical professional.
- Antihistamines. Various allergy medications can reduce the feelings of itchiness and stave off unknown night-time itching. Antihistamines block histamines (allergens) which can cause the reaction of itchiness and redness. Pairing an antihistamine with supple moisturizers can help eczema sufferers wake up without itchy, red skin.
- Antibiotics. If a bacterial infection forms as the result of an open wound, your doctor may prescribe an antibiotic to prevent further infection.
- Antifungal prescriptions. Sometimes, eczema can be prompted by a fungus living on the skin. To eliminate this fungus, a prescription antifungal can be effective.
- Phototherapy. Exposure to UV light, including UVA and UVB rays, can help treat a wide variety of skin conditions, including contact dermatitis and atopic dermatitis. Ultraviolet light therapy should be closely monitored by a dermatologist or other medical professional to ensure skin isn’t burning, peeling, or deteriorating.
One could potentially live with eczema forever, depending on the severity of the condition. However, itchiness and flare-ups usually tend to increase in severity, causing the individual to seek medical treatment.
People respond to treatment differently and it may take trial and error to figure out which option works best for you. Certain home treatments can help alleviate itching right away while other medical treatments, like corticosteroid creams and topical treatments, may take a few weeks to reach their peak effectiveness.
Be Proactive and Visit our Dermatology Offices
Instead of living with painful, irritating symptoms of eczema, take action, and schedule an appointment with an Orlando dermatologist. These highly-trained specialists, like Dr. Naveed Sami, work with patients to understand their complete medical history and create a healthcare plan accordingly.
It’s crucial to recognize eczema symptoms early in order to avoid worse, long-term effects like scarring, infections, and mental health issues. Our skin is the body’s largest organ and protects us from a whole host of external factors. Maintaining a moisturized, healthy barrier is crucial to a higher quality of life.
UCF Health provides ample eczema resources as well as COVID-19 updates for patients so that our community can stay happy, healthy, and informed. Take charge of your health care through our convenient patient portal and start on the path to better health and wellbeing.