What You Should Know About Eczema and How to Treat It
Up to 15 million Americans suffer from eczema, a common skin condition that manifests as itchy, red, irritating bumps. Because it’s so prevalent, it’s important to understand what it is, how to identify if you might have it, and how it’s typically treated.
Eczema: What Is It, and What Causes It?
Eczema is actually commonly known as “the itch that rashes” because it begins as dry skin that becomes itchy, and as people scratch their dry, itchy skin, it turns into an itchy rash. This type of eczema is the most common and is typically caused by one of two factors: environmental (think skin irritants or dry air), or a genetic defect in the skin’s proteins that help skin cells hold on to moisture.
As far as environmental triggers, for individuals who reside in locations that have dry air, typically from cold weather and from running heaters or furnaces, the skin loses moisture when humidity is removed from the air. Frequent hand washing or bathing can also lead to dry skin.
Once the skin is dry, it becomes much more sensitive to potential irritants in chemicals found in household cleaning solutions, cosmetics, and other products.
How Can I Tell If I Have Eczema?
The most common signs and symptoms of eczema include red, sometimes scaly, and ill-defined bumps that can grow together into even larger bumps. Eczema is always itchy, which can sometimes lead people to confuse it with poison ivy or an allergic skin rash.
Eczema tends to flare up in certain areas of the body, which differ based on age. Infant eczema, which is also very common, typically appears on the cheeks, around the mouth, and the trunk.
In adults, eczema manifests most often on the hands, in the folds behind the knees and elbows, on the eyelids, and on the neck. However, it can appear in other places as well, so it is important to consult your dermatologist if you believe you have eczema.
How Can I Avoid Common Environmental Triggers for Eczema?
Moisturize, moisturize, moisturize! We can typically tell when our skin is dry, and it’s always best to aggressively moisturize a minimum of three times each day, especially after bathing.
It’s also helpful to avoid direct skin contact with cleaning products. Always wear gloves to prevent the chemicals in those products from irritating and drying out your skin. If you do have direct contact, wash your hands thoroughly and apply moisturizer.
Eczema can also be caused by your laundry detergent or sun and sweat exposure, so be sure to evaluate possible triggers based on your lifestyle and when flare-ups tend to occur. And keep in mind: not just any moisturizer will do the trick. Try to avoid lotions with fragrances as these can cause more irritation and don’t provide much in the way of moisture replenishment. The same goes for cosmetics. Look for fragrance-free moisturizers and creams that are specifically designed to restore moisture to the skin.
Are There Individuals More Prone to Developing Eczema?
Eczema can affect anyone at any age, but individuals who are more at risk include those who live in cold climates with low humidity, who work outside and have a lot of cold or sun exposure, and people who frequently wash their hands for their occupation.
Eczema is also a hereditary condition that can be passed down, so if you have a strong family history of eczema, you are also more at risk.
This skin condition can manifest at any time, and really at any age, although it is most common in infants and adults. Infants also tend to “grow out” of their eczema at a certain point.
When it Comes to Pediatric Eczema, What Should Parents Look Out For?
While pediatric eczema is very common and typically not a significant concern, it can be difficult to control with an energetic, active child. Parents should primarily look out for any yellow crusting around the eczema sites, as that could be indicative of an infection. Otherwise, there are some good infant eczema creams that can be applied to the irritated areas to manage the symptoms.
What Can I Expect for an Eczema Treatment?
The best treatment across the board is moisturizer. A good moisturizer is better than any prescription, but in some cases, we do use medicines to help calm down the skin’s immune system to control eczema.
Another important treatment is behavioral modification. Whether it’s avoiding the environmental irritants, remembering to moisturize, or keeping yourself from scratching (which makes eczema worse), behavior plays a big role in treating eczema.
When Should I Consider Seeing a Dermatologist?
If at-home, over-the-counter remedies aren’t working, or you feel you need an official diagnosis, extra advice, and support, that is a good time to see a dermatologist.
Apply a quality moisturizer three times daily for up to two weeks first, and contact your dermatologist or primary care physician if you still do not see a change.
How Soon Should I Expect to See Changes or Improvements Following Treatment?
Nothing works immediately, and it may take up to six weeks to notice a significant improvement depending on the severity of the eczema. But remember – stick with the treatment! If you don’t feel like the medication is working after a week or two, don’t give up!
Would I Come Back For a Follow-Up Appointment?
It definitely depends on your specific eczema condition, but we typically recommend a follow-up after three months.
What Do Prescription Eczema Treatment Options Include?
A topical treatment used in conjunction with moisturizers is always advised and is usually the first step when treating moderate or severe eczema. There are many different kinds of topical ointments and creams in varying strengths and formulations, and we work closely with all patients to understand which topical treatment would be best.
For more severe or hard-to-treat cases, systemic medications like pills, injections, and special light therapies can be useful. Again, treatment depends on everyone’s unique situation.
Think You Have Eczema? Come In For a Visit.
Your first step after applying moisturizer for the recommended time period should be to contact your dermatologist and discuss treatment options.
At The Dermatology Center of Indiana, our expert, board-certified dermatologists know the best approach to treating and managing your eczema.
Schedule an appointment today to discuss the best treatment plan for your eczema.