Eczema is a chronic condition that damages the skin barrier function, or the “glue” that keeps your epidermal cells together. When epidermal barrier function is impaired, your skin becomes more sensitive and vulnerable to dryness and infection.
Also known as atopic dermatitis, eczema is especially common in children; in the United States, it affects up to one in four kids, with most cases emerging by the age of five. While many childhood eczema cases effectively disappear by early adolescence, other cases persist for a lifetime. Less commonly, eczema appears for the first time in adulthood.
When you or your child are dealing with dry, sensitive skin that’s red, itchy, and bumpy, the only thing you want is fast, powerful relief that lasts. At the Dermatology Center of Worcester, our expert team knows that effective eczema management isn’t just reactive, however — it’s also highly proactive. Here’s what you should know.
Eczema (atopic dermatitis) is a chronic inflammatory skin condition that affects up to 15 million Americans. In fact, the term dermatitis means inflammation of the skin, and the term eczema is derived from the Greek word ekzein, which means to “boil over” or “break out.”
Eczema causes itchy, red rashes that can show up anywhere on your skin. In brown or black skin, eczema tends to appear as a gray or violet-brown area of discoloration and discomfort.
These symptoms often intensify at night, causing an overwhelming urge to itch that makes it difficult to sleep. During a flare-up, many eczema patients scratch their itchy skin until it breaks open, leaving them prone to infection.
Over time, eczema can leave you with itchy, scaly patches where the rashes once appeared; it can also lighten or darken where rashes routinely emerge. Sometimes, the affected skin area develops bumps that look like permanent goosebumps; in other cases, the skin grows thicker to protect itself from continuous scratching.
Because it’s impossible to know which eczema cases will resolve on their own and which will persist or even reappear later, atopic dermatitis is treated as a long-term skin disease. While this means that it can’t be cured, it can be managed effectively with the right strategies.
Proper treatment and an eczema-friendly skin care routine can go a long way in reducing symptoms, preventing infections, and avoiding flare-ups. Effective eczema control aims to:
Treatments that can help shorten the duration of eczema flare-ups and minimize their damage include oral antibiotics, anti-itch medication, anti-inflammatory injectable medications, and light therapy (phototherapy).
A thorough eczema management plan is key to attaining lasting relief and symptom control. A major part of that plan involves implementing specific, proven strategies in your daily life. You should:
You may not always know what causes an eczema flare-up, but you can figure out your personal triggers by keeping track of them in a journal. Common eczema triggers include stress, sweat, dry air, sunburns, and irritating detergents and soaps.
Work with our board-certified dermatologists to establish a healthy skincare routine that includes the right products for your skin.
Shower or bathe in lukewarm (never hot) water using mild, fragrance-free soap. Gently pat (never rub) your skin dry, and apply a moisturizing cream or ointment directly after drying to help seal in moisture.
Wear gloves outside during the cold winter months. If you wash dishes in a sink by hand, wear rubber gloves to protect your skin from the hot water. If your hands sweat inside rubber gloves, wear cotton liners to wick it away from your skin.
Wear loose-fitting clothes made of natural, breathable fibers like cotton and linen. Avoid wool, as it can irritate your skin. Wash new clothing items before you wear them, and always use a fragrance-free, dye-free detergent made for sensitive skin.
Keeping yourself well hydrated is a great way to ensure your skin stays well hydrated, too. In most cases, you know you’re getting enough water if your urine is pale yellow or clear.
Given eczema’s inflammatory nature, it’s important to steer clear of any known allergens and irritants whenever possible. If you do have allergies, work with your primary care doctor to establish a comprehensive allergy control plan.
Stress is a major eczema trigger for many adults. Learn to recognize your major life stressors, and find ways to control or manage them. Exercise, hobbies, meditation, and therapy are a few helpful stress control techniques.
If you have questions about eczema management, we have answers. Call 508-452-2702 or request an appointment online.
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