Often characterized by inflammation that causes skin to become itchy, red, dry and extra-sensitive, eczema is more common than you think. While many factors can trigger symptoms—such as diet and chemicals—you shouldn’t have to tiptoe through life in fear of a flare-up. Here are a number of strategies and tips that can help you manage your condition.
1. Know Your Triggers
Lots of things—from the obvious scented soaps to the not-so-obvious pet dander—can trigger a severe outbreak of eczema. Triggers vary from person to person, but common items that may exacerbate eczema are soaps, detergents and chemicals. While mold and pollen don’t directly trigger eczema, people with eczema are more likely to also have seasonal allergies to things such as mold and pollen. Figure out your triggers by keeping a detailed diary of what products you use alongside a brief report of your symptoms. This will help you identify what may be causing your eczema flare-ups.
2. Moisturize Regularly
A moisturizer helps keep dryness and scales under control. It also can help alleviate some itching, especially if it contains a topical steroid prescribed by your doctor. If you use an over-the-counter product, go for one that is unscented and contains minimal additives. Use it immediately after a shower or bath to help lock in moisture.
3. Resist the Urge to Scratch
Avoid scratching the eczema; it may alleviate the itch for a moment or two, but it will delay healing of an outbreak. Cut your fingernails so that when you do scratch, you’re less likely to break open the rashes.
4. Wash Away Sweat
Exercise is good for most people, but the resulting sweat can make eczema symptoms worse. If you’ve just finished an especially hard run, sports practice or bike ride, shower as soon as possible. Avoid spending lots of time in hot conditions that cause you to sweat; drastic humidity changes can also be a problem.
5. Manage Stress
An eczema flare-up often occurs when you’re under a lot of stress, such as being subjected to tight deadlines at work, moving or a financial crisis. The external stress causes your eczema symptoms to increase, resulting in physical skin stress. Learning to deal with stress is a lifelong process, but finding ways to relieve it may help prevent the intensity of symptoms.
6. Go for Cotton
Cotton clothing and bedding tend to be less irritating than other fabrics. Pre-wash anything you wear or sleep on in a natural, fragrance-free detergent to eliminate possible triggers that were in the packaging or loose dye. Silk, linen and soft acrylic are additional fabrics many with eczema tolerate; rough wool and synthetic fabrics often irritate. Clothes that bind or are tight-fitting may also be highly uncomfortable.
7. Protect Your Hands
Your hands come into contact with all sorts of substances every day. For eczema sufferers, this can result in eczema on the hands or transfer the substance to another part of your body, triggering a flare-up. Wear rubber gloves when you wash dishes and clean the bathrooms; use cotton gloves when performing chores. If rubber is a trigger, wear a light pair of cotton gloves under the rubber ones. Cover your hands in cold weather, which can also be drying and irritating.
8. Minimize Shower Time
Make your bathtime or shower short; long exposure to water can cause moisture loss. Keep the temperature of the water relatively cool because hot water is drying and irritating. Avoid scrubbing hard with a loofah or washcloth.
9. You Don’t Always Outgrow It
Eczema often appears during childhood and although many kids outgrow it, it can flare up again in adulthood. Eczema can also make its first appearance when you’re an adult. The path of the condition is different for everyone.
10. It’s a Chronic Condition
You can manage eczema symptoms. You can avoid triggers. But, you cannot cure eczema entirely. Over-the-counter antihistamines may help alleviate symptoms and itching, but they don’t make the condition go away. The same is true of prescription-strength steroid creams. The best you can do is avoid anything that causes a flare-up; when your eczema is at its worst, seek a doctor.
This article has been reviewed by board-certified dermatologist Dr. Emmy Graber.