Dry, itchy, red skin? You may have eczema.
It’s called the itch-scratch cycle. You have dry skin that itches, so you scratch it to the point that the skin is damaged. This releases inflammatory chemicals that only increase the itch and the cycle continues. This is what it’s like to have eczema, an itchy rash that can appear anywhere on your body. There’s no cure, but with the right treatment it can be kept under control.
Here’s what you need to know about the symptoms, causes, treatment, and preventative measures for eczema.
An Itchy Rash
You know how annoying a small, itchy bug bite can be. Imagine an itchy rash over large areas of your body. This is what eczema, also called atopic dermatitis, is like. Most people break out with eczema behind their knees or on their elbows, but it can pop up on the cheeks, chin, scalp, chest, back, legs, arms, or anywhere else you have skin.
Eczema is more common and more severe in babies and young children, and it usually comes and goes and lessens with age. Adults, however, can suffer with the annoying condition as well.
The symptoms and presentation of the rash look different for each person. There are nine different types of eczema, but the unifying factor is itchy skin that’s dry and sensitive. Additional symptoms include patches of skin that are red, inflamed, thick, rough, peeling, blistered, scaly, discolored, oozing, or crusting.
Setting It Off
The cause of eczema remains a mystery, but it’s definitely connected to an allergic response. An overwhelming 80 percent of kids with eczema also have asthma or hay fever. For some reason, the overreaction of the immune system presents itself in dry, itchy skin. The skin condition also seems to run in families.
Things that trigger or worsen eczema symptoms are different for each person, but the most common include the following:
• Irritants: household cleaners; soaps; shampoos; detergents; or juice from fruits, vegetables, or meats
• Extreme temperatures: hot or cold weather, high or low humidity, or sweating
• Foods: dairy, wheat, soy, nuts, fish, or eggs
• Allergens: pollen, mold, dust mites, and pets
• Stress: emotional or physical
• Microbes: certain viruses, bacteria, or fungi
• Hormones: fluctuating hormone levels in the body
Stop the Itch
A large part of treatment for eczema includes ongoing, daily home remedies that take care of the skin and prevent flare-ups. Since hot temperatures trigger eczema, take warm baths or showers instead of hot showers, and wash with mild soap. Use a soft towel to gently pat the skin dry instead of rubbing rigorously. Immediately after bathing (within three minutes) and at least once a day, apply a quality moisturizing lotion to keep the skin moist.
Rather than tight, scratchy clothes, wear loose clothing made of soft, breathable fabrics. Avoid extreme temperatures and keep the humidity levels in your home balanced by running a humidifier when it’s dry or cold. Know your triggers and stay away from them when possible. Clip your fingernails short to prevent breaking the skin if you’re tempted to scratch.
When home remedies don’t do the trick, make an appointment to see your doctor. Many people try multiple lotions, creams, and medications before finding a remedy. Both over-the-counter and prescription medications such as hydrocortisone creams, corticosteroid ointments, antihistamines, phototherapy, and tar treatments are available to reduce inflammation and itching.