Eczema, or atopic dermatitis, is a chronic skin condition that normally develops during childhood. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, as many as 20 percent of the world's population suffers from some form of eczema. The cause of eczema is not known, but the disorder tends to run in families, and is more common in those with allergies and asthma. Lip eczema, which is eczema that occurs on or near the lips, leads to redness, cracking, inflammation and severe itching. While there is no cure for lip eczema, the condition is usually manageable with over-the-counter treatments and avoidance of allergens and other triggers.
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Eczema can cause dryness and cracks on the lips and the area around the mouth. Applying an over-the-counter moisturizer (Lubriderm, Aquaphor, Eucerin and others) to the lips every day can help lock in moisture. The American Academy of Family Physicians recommends using the moisturizer within three minutes of getting out of the bath, and avoiding moisturizers that contain fragrances or other unnecessary ingredients. Plain petroleum jelly is easy to apply to the lips throughout the day and is resistant to lip licking.
Steroid creams are the primary treatment for eczema. Use a 1 percent hydrocortisone cream on the lips and mouth area every day to help control lip eczema redness, inflammation and itching. Apply the cream after bathing, but before applying moisturizer or other products to the skin. Creams containing hydrocortisone are available in most pharmacies.
Many soaps and facial cleansers make lip eczema worse. Use plain water to clean the lip area, when possible, and use a soap substitute when the mouth area requires deeper cleaning. Regular soaps can increase dryness and inflammation. According to the National Eczema Society, emollient soap substitutes are just as effective at cleaning the skin as soap, but they do not cause the same degree of drying as traditional soaps.
Eczema is extremely itchy, and scratching often makes the itch more severe. Moreover, scratching can damage the skin and make it more vulnerable to bacterial infection. Over-the-counter antihistamines can help relieve itching and improve sleep, especially in children. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends using an oral antihistamine at night to control itching, relieve restlessness and prevent scratching.
Broken, inflamed eczema is prone to bacterial infections. This risk is especially high in younger children who are constantly touching their mouth and chewing on objects. An over-the-counter antibiotic ointment can help reduce the risk of bacterial infection when applied frequently to broken skin on the lips. The Nemours Foundation states that signs of a serious skin infection, such as increased warmth or redness, blisters, pus-filled bumps or fever, require medical attention to prevent serious complications.
Oatmeal Bath Products
Oatmeal baths can provide relief from the extreme itching associated with eczema. The Mayo Clinic recommends using finely ground oatmeal designed for use in the bathtub. These bath products are available at most pharmacies and grocery stores. You can also make your own oatmeal bath by grinding 2 to 3 cups of oat into powder and then mixing it with a tub full of warm water.