Eczema (also called atopic dermatitis) is a skin condition that causes patches of your skin to become red, itchy, and dry. There are a variety of triggers that cause flare-ups of eczema, one of which is cold, dry weather.
What can you do to prevent eczema outbreaks in the winter? While there is no eczema cure, there are many effective techniques to curb and treat flare-ups in the cold, dry months.
During the winter, whether you have eczema or not, your skin is already prone to becoming dry and cracked. Having eczema exacerbates “winter skin,” increasing the chances of you getting the itchy, flaky, red, and cracked skin of an eczema flare-up.
The first step in preventing and treating an outbreak of winter eczema is using basic skin care. Keep your skin moisturized by applying lotion at least twice a day. The best time to moisturize is after you take a bath or shower when your skin is still damp; the moisturizer can help lock in the moisture, keeping your skin from becoming dried out. Consult with your doctor to find the best eczema lotion for your skin.
If moisturizing when your skin is dry, use an oil or lubricating cream. Limit your baths or showers to 10-15 minutes and use warm instead of hot water. Avoid the use of harsh detergents and soaps, as these can irritate your skin and create or worsen a flare-up.
Even though wool is a warm fabric that is commonly worn in cold weather, the scratchiness of the wool can irritate your skin. Wear soft, cotton clothing -- you can layer your clothing to achieve the same warmth that wool offers. When you are outside in the cold weather, wear protective gear, especially on the areas of your body where your skin is prone to eczema outbreaks. When you are inside, use a humidifier to keep away the dry, winter air.
Itching is one of the most common eczema symptoms. But scratching your skin can worsen your eczema flare-up or cause your skin to become cracked, inviting infection to your irritated skin. Using the described basic skin care techniques can help alleviate mild itching. But you might need to take stronger measures to calm the itching of your eczema flare-up.
Applying a cool compress to the itchy skin might calm the itching and keep you from scratching. Taking an oral antihistamine or Benadryl can also be a good eczema treatment. Just be careful if the medication makes you sleepy.
You can also apply an anti-itching cream or calamine lotion before you moisturize. The Mayo Clinic recommends using a non-prescription hydrocortisone cream, containing at least 1 percent hydrocortisone, to temporarily relieve the itch. If these mild creams don’t provide relief, your doctor can prescribe a higher potency steroid or an oral corticosteroid for severe outbreaks.
You may also find relief from the itching by soaking for 10-15 minutes in a warm bath with baking soda, uncooked oatmeal, or colloidal oatmeal (a finely ground oatmeal that is made by Aveeno, Burt’s Bees and others). If you find that you can’t help scratching, keep the affected areas covered up, maintain short nails, and wear gloves at night.
The American Academy of Dermatology recommends taking a bleach bath as an eczema treatment. The bleach can eliminate bacteria on your skin and thus hamper skin infections on the eczema patches.
After you’ve talked to your dermatologist to make sure this is a good approach for you, use a half cup of household bleach (not concentrated) in a full bathtub of warm water (less if a child is taking the bleach bath). Soak for 5-10 minutes, pat your skin dry, and then apply any eczema medication and moisturizer.
Your dermatologist may also suggest light therapy as a treatment for your eczema outbreak if creams and medications are not working or you are experiencing unpleasant side effects from eczema medication. In light therapy, a dermatologist will expose your skin to controlled ultraviolet light for a matter of seconds or minutes, two to three times a week. The National Eczema Foundation reports that around 70% of people who receive light therapy for their eczema experience improvement in their symptoms.
If you suffer from eczema, contact Vanguard Dermatology today to schedule an appointment. The experienced greater New York City area dermatologists at Vanguard can work with you to develop a plan that will provide relief and healing from your eczema symptoms.