How to Keep Eczema Flareups In Check
It takes a lot of willpower not to scratch your skin during an eczema flare-up. This skin condition makes the skin feel dry, itchy, and painful all at the same time.
Unlike dry skin, most lotions won’t do the trick. In fact, some lotions and other skin care products can trigger irritation.
Living with Eczema
According to the National Eczema Organization, 31.6 million people in the United States suffer from eczema. That’s more than 10% of the population in the US.
Eczema is more common among children, but adults can also suffer from the condition. Some people experience less severe flare-ups as they grow older, while some completely outgrow it. That said, eczema is not a curable skin condition–at least for now.
The symptoms come and go, and sometimes, they pop up at the most inopportune occasion. Like when you’re going to attend your best friend’s spring wedding or go skiing in Colorado.
This makes us wonder:
What causes eczema in the first place?
Experts are still stumped about the real cause of eczema. But according to research, gene mutation has something to do with it. The mutation weakens the skin’s protective barrier, making it lose moisture and more susceptible to bacteria and infections. This is why people with eczema have very dry and easily irritated skin.
While we can’t do anything about our genetics, we can still prevent flare-ups by knowing what triggers them. It also helps to know what type of eczema you have (there are quite a few), so you’ll know exactly how to deal with it.
Beyond Atopic Dermatitis
Atopic dermatitis is the most common type of eczema. Also called “classic eczema”, atopic dermatitis or AD appears as a red rash on the cheeks, arms, and legs. People who develop AD usually have asthma or allergic rhinitis. (Fun fact: Atopic means allergy.)
Since eczema appears as a red rash, it can be hard to distinguish it from other infections that may share the same characteristics. Staph infection and herpes are common among people with atopic dermatitis because of the weakened skin barrier.
Although atopic dermatitis is common, it is also a more severe form of eczema. Aside from the red, scaly patches, AD may also show up as raised lumps that get crusty when scratched. The result is raw, tender, and painful skin.
But on the upside, atopic dermatitis ebbs and flows. There are days when the skin is extra itchy, but it’s never a 24/7 battle where there’s no ease of discomfort at all.
Moisturizing several times a day can help calm the skin. Dermatologists often recommend ointments or creams to hydrate the skin, but it’s also a good idea to watch out what you eat or where you go as these can also trigger atopic dermatitis.
But what about the other types of eczema?
Eczema is a general term used to describe dry, itchy, and sometimes, scaly skin. But aside from atopic dermatitis, there are different kinds of eczema that may require different treatments.
1) Dyshidrotic Eczema
Dyshidrosis, or dyshidrotic eczema, appear as small fluid-filled blisters on areas that get sweaty often like the palms of your hands and soles of the feet. Sometimes, they can also appear on the sides of the fingers. The welts usually dry out after three weeks, but the skin might be rough and scaly after.
This type of eczema is very tough for those who use their hands and feet very often, especially during spring and summer when the weather is hot and humid. People with atopic dermatitis also have a higher risk of developing dyshidrosis.
The most common treatments for dyshidrotic eczema are creams and ointments. These are very moisturizing and help lessen the roughness of the skin once the blisters have subsided. For severe cases, doctors may prescribe corticosteroid injections or pills.
2) Nummular Dermatitis
Do the patches on your skin look like coins or oval sores? If so, you might have nummular dermatitis. Also called discoid eczema, nummular dermatitis looks like tiny, red spots and fluid-filled blisters. As the sores become larger, they form into a coin-shaped cluster.
According to the American Academy of Dermatology, this type of eczema usually appears on the torso, legs, feet, arms, and hands. While experts are unsure of how and why people get nummular dermatitis, a person has a higher chance of having this type of eczema when the skin is injured from a burn or insect bite and may last for several weeks or months. People who also take isotretinoin for acne may also develop nummular dermatitis.
To treat the skin, doctors may prescribe corticosteroid ointments and tar creams to reduce inflammation. But if there’s an infection, your doctor may require you to take antibiotics and antihistamines if you’re having trouble sleeping at night because of the itch.
3) Seborrheic Dermatitis
Some eczema shows up mainly on the scalp. Such is the case of seborrheic dermatitis, also known as seborrheic eczema. This type of eczema appears as red, scaly patches on the scalp. On some occasions, it is a bad case of dandruff.
Although seborrheic eczema affects mainly the scalp, it can also appear on the face and other areas of the body where there is excessive oil. While doctors are still unsure of the cause, they also suspect that malassezia, a type of yeast that’s in oil secretions, has something to do with it. Another factor that may contribute to seborrheic dermatitis is an overactive immune system.
If you’ve been under a lot of stress or experiencing hormonal changes, that could trigger the onset of seborrheic dermatitis. Other triggers include extremely dry and cold weather as well as using harsh soaps and detergents.
Seborrheic eczema usually goes away without any need for medication. Cleansing the affected area with a mild soap or shampoo helps reduce oiliness, which leads to buildup.
4) Stasis Dermatitis
Poor blood flow, especially in the legs, can lead to statis dermatitis. This type of eczema usually crops up when there’s insufficient circulation on the legs. This leads to fluid buildup and swelling around the ankles.
If there’s no improvement in blood circulation, the next signs that usually appear are dry and itchy skin and painful open sores that leak fluid. Statis dermatitis is common among people who are 50 years old and above.
Doctors usually prescribe corticosteroid cream and antihistamine to lessen the inflammation and to relieve the itch. To reduce the swelling, you can use a pair of compression stockings to help with the blood circulation around the legs. It also helps to be more mindful of the products you use–fragrances (even when naturally derived) may trigger the onset of eczema.
Is Eczema Contagious?
Having eczema can sometimes feel like you’re always in the spotlight. But for the wrong reasons. This skin condition can make you feel extremely self-conscious, especially when people ask if it’s contagious.
Then, there are those who automatically assume it’s transmissible. It’s not–but a rash has that effect to people.
Although having eczema may run in the family, it is not an infectious disease. It is not brought by bacteria, viruses, or any other microorganism, so it’s not contagious.
That said, it’s a good idea to let people know why the rashes appear. Let them know that only people in your family can get this skin condition because of genetics.
It may sometime before people finally understand eczema and accept that it’s not a communicable disease. In the meantime, you can try to figure out what triggers the flare-ups.
There are a few things that you can look into:
- Dry skin
Eczema usually begins as a patch of dry skin that becomes red, tight, and scaly. To prevent dry skin from turning into a flare-up, make sure to moisturize several times a day.
Chemicals from the products you use and from the environment can irritate your skin. Fragrances, soaps, and even cigarette smoke can trigger the onset of eczema.
Experts are not sure why, but stress is one of the factors that lead to flare-ups. It seems that stress hormones have something to do with it.
Extreme climate conditions can worsen eczema. During hot days, you tend to get sweaty, and on cold days, you get extremely dry skin.
Dust mites, pollens, and molds are just some of the allergens that could trigger an eczema flare-up.
Some foods may cause inflammation, which leads to an eczema flare-up. It’s best to monitor how your skin reacts to certain foods to determine if it’s the one triggering eczema.
Foods to Avoid When You Have Eczema
Fruits and vegetables are supposed to be healthy for you. But when you have eczema, you need to watch out what you eat.
Some foods like dairy, eggs, soy, and citrus can trigger inflammation. Same thing goes for gluten or wheat, tomatoes, some spices, and nuts.
If you suspect that food is the reason for the flare-up, consult your doctor to know if you are allergic to a certain food. People with dyshidrotic eczema are extra sensitive to nickel in food, which can be found in trace amounts in shellfish, beans, and peas.
Although your food intake may be limited to an extent, there are anti-inflammatory foods that you can eat to help prevent an eczema attack:
- Fish – rich in omega-3 fatty acids that prevent inflammation
What to Eat: mackerel, sardines, albacore tuna, and herring
- Probiotics – good gut health plays a huge role in keeping inflammation at bay
What to Eat: yogurt, kimchi, kombucha, kefir, and sauerkraut
- Flavonoids – these have antioxidant effects that keep the immune system healthy
What to Eat: kale, broccoli, apples, spinach, cherries, and other colorful fruits and vegetables
How to Prevent and Calm a Flare-Up
Avoiding certain foods can help prevent a flare-up. But it’s not the only thing that can help you calm your skin.
There are many ways that you can stop eczema from getting worse. Here are some things that you can do to prevent eczema from happening and to calm it down once it’s already there:
- Moisturize several times a day.
An eczema flare-up happens when you have extremely dry skin that’s also irritated. The key to preventing this from happening is by moisturizing at least twice a day. Hydrate your skin with a thick cream to help calm down eczema. Ointments are great too as they are oil-based, which makes them very emollient. Stay away from gels, which contain alcohol that can dry the skin.
- Minimize shower time.
Everybody loves a good hot shower at the end of the day. But showering for too long can make the skin very dry. The natural oils that protect the skin are stripped off, leaving it exposed to irritants. Aim for a five minute shower time especially during winter when the skin gets too dry.
- Stick to gentle, hydrating cleansers.
Eczema can make the skin feel raw after cleansing, especially if you’re using products that are not formulated for sensitive skin. Some products contain ingredients that can make the skin drier. Keep away from cleansers that contain strong fragrances, surfactants, and preservatives.
- Use a humidifier.
It may sound fancy using a humidifier at home, but this can save your skin. Winter and summer are notorious for making the skin feel drier than usual. Think of a humidifier as a little investment for your home. Your skin will thank you for it.
- Wear natural fabrics.
We all have our own styles, and part of experimenting with fashion is wearing outfits made of different fabrics. But some fabrics like wool and polyester can irritate the skin. Instead, look for something that’s more natural like cotton, cashmere, or silk.
An eczema flare-up can be really uncomfortable. But you can prevent it from happening by knowing your triggers.
Although there are medications and topical ointments that you can use, take note that not all eczema is the same. Always consult your doctor before taking any medications for eczema. Each person is different and may require a different treatment.