It's important to take care of your skin if you have eczema, and not just to heal the dry, itchy red patches caused by this condition. Eczema, also called atopic dermatitis, can be related to a host of other health issues.
"People who have eczema are at risk of developing heart disease, allergies or asthma, in part because the inflammation triggering eczema flare-ups may affect other parts of the body as well," says Phillip Cecchini, MD, a board-certified family medicine physician at Mission Heritage Medical Group. "The itching can intensify at night, which can keep you awake, and disrupted sleep can lead to physical and emotional issues. Too much scratching can cause the skin to become raw and break, making you susceptible to infections. And living with eczema can be stressful, causing depression and anxiety."
Proper eczema treatment is important--both to control the immediate effects of flare-ups on raw, dry skin, and also to take care of your health over the long term. Dr. Cecchini offers the following tips to keep skin in the best possible shape:
- Avoid your eczema triggers. "Certain factors can lead to flare-ups, including allergens, irritants such as harsh detergents, stressful situations and cold weather that can dry out skin," Dr. Cecchini says. "Figure out your triggers and how you can avoid them if possible, such as buying a new brand of soap or learning stress management techniques such as deep breathing."
- Know the right way to bathe. "Hot water can be drying for skin, so soak in a bath or shower with warm water," Dr. Cecchini says. "For baths, you can add baking soda or oatmeal for extra softening. Soap should be as gentle and natural as possible, without irritants such as fragrances. As soon as you're done, moisturize the skin while it's still damp so it doesn't dry out and exacerbate your eczema. You may even need to moisturize twice a day, depending on the condition of your skin."
- Use medicated creams. "Some over-the-counter ointments, such as hydrocortisone cream, can be used for milder flare-ups," Dr. Cecchini says. "For more severe cases, your doctor may prescribe medicated cream, such as topical corticosteroids. Different creams do different things--some relieve itching, while others guard against infection, for instance."
- Don't scratch that itch. "Scratching the skin may bring relief in the moment, but it can prevent skin from healing and open you up to bacteria that could cause an infection," Dr. Cecchini says. "Cover the area with a bandage or wet compress so you're less tempted to itch."
- Cocoon yourself in cotton. Scratchy fabrics, such as wool, and too-tight clothes can irritate skin. Cotton and other soft fabrics let skin heal.
- Keep cool indoors. Hot air can leach moisture from the skin. Humidifiers can help set an even temperature.
- Talk with your doctor about other remedies. There are a number of options out there for eczema treatment, ranging from acupuncture and supplements, to petroleum jelly, coconut oil, biofeedback, and phototherapy, in which UVB light is used to treat inflammation and ward off bacteria.
This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.