The Eczema Sufferer’s Guide to Surviving the Itch
By DR. JULIE KURIAKOSE
If you're one of the 31.6 million people in the U.S. who suffer from eczema, you know that the causes for your outbreaks can sometimes seem like an unsolvable mystery. When minor seasonal changes bring out the worst in your condition, it can get frustrating trying to find the next quick fix. What you may not realize is that the change in seasons could be affecting your skin for different reasons than you think.
What Is Eczema?
Eczema is a chronic skin condition. Although the exact cause of eczema is still up for debate, there are two types that sufferers most commonly experience.
One common type of eczema usually affects those with pre-existing allergies and is referred to as atopic dermatitis. This type of eczema tends to cause itchy, inflamed, dry patches. With this type, it's common to develop a rash two to three days after being exposed to allergens like pollen.
If you have this type of allergic eczema, you may experience more outbreaks at specific points in the year when environmental allergens change with the seasons. One example of this would be in the springtime when tree pollen counts are high. Food allergens may also trigger a delayed eczematous rash, especially in allergic children.
The other form of eczema is said to be caused by a genetic mutation that creates an impaired skin barrier, making those affected much more susceptible to dry skin. Eczema outbreaks can vary, depending on the severity of the reaction. Many eczema sufferers experience rough patches on the face, neck, wrists, inner elbows, back of the knees, hands and feet.
Parts of the body that bend and fold are usually prone to the most outbreaks, and affected areas can be dry, cracked and itchy. Eczema can also become infected and can worsen in severity to include inflamed and oozing patches, so it's important to understand how to treat your condition as soon as symptoms present themselves.
How Do You Treat Eczema?
The first step to treating eczema is the same for every allergy: Talk to your doctor. If you're experiencing some of the common signs and symptoms listed above and think you may have eczema, it's wise to talk to your allergist before trying to self-diagnose or self-medicate.
Getting a skin test with your allergist could help narrow the potential causes of your symptoms and could reveal other types of allergies that are playing a role in your eczema outbreaks. Because atopic eczema can be triggered by multiple allergens, a skin test will help you understand additional ways to keep outbreaks at bay.
How to Take Care of Your Skin
When you have eczema, your body is struggling to hold on to moisture, so you need to be careful with your skin routine from start to finish. Don't forget about basic skin care 101: Eat healthy, stay hydrated and avoid overexposure to extreme heat or cold. Once you have the basics covered, it's time to get serious.
1. Lukewarm Showers: Skip the extremely hot showers that last for hours at a time and instead take five-minute lukewarm showers. Overshowering and using soaps that strip your body of essential oils will only do more harm to your already-sensitive skin.
2. Moisturize: Don't forget to read the labels when shopping for soaps and moisturizers. Go for a gentle bodywash that is moisturizing and free of any fragrance. For moisturizers, you want to find something with a thick cream base that has the consistency of a body butter and enough lasting power to nourish your skin for hours after you apply it.
For rough, dry patches, use a thick balm as a topcoat to seal in your moisturizer. Always try to steer clear of added scents in any of your cleansers, moisturizers and even cosmetics.
3. Moisturize Again: For anyone who suffers from frequent eczema outbreaks, you should get into the habit of reapplying moisturizer two to three times each day. Choose points in your day when you have a couple of extra minutes, like in the morning right before you get dressed or even during your lunch break. Set an alarm on your phone, and make sure that you carry a mini version of your go-to product wherever you are. Consistency is key when it comes to curbing outbreaks.
It may take some trial and error to find a routine that works, but once you're able to pinpoint your triggers, it will become much easier to manage your outbreaks and create a plan to reduce the stress related to your symptoms.
Readers -- Do you suffer from either type of eczema? What are some soaps and moisturizers that work the best for you? Leave a comment below and let us know.
Dr. Julie Kuriakose is a distinguished physician and educator. She is board-certified in both allergy and immunology and internal medicine. Dr. Kuriakose also has notable expertise in nasal and ocular allergies, sinusitis, asthma and anaphylaxis. In addition, she has extensive experience in evaluating cosmetic allergies, food and medication allergies, diseases of the skin, insect sting reaction and latex allergies.