You’ve been dealing with the symptoms of eczema for a while now: flakey, red, itchy, cracked, sensitive skin. What’s going on in your body to cause this frustrating skin irritation? Understanding your symptoms can help you know how to better treat your eczema and find relief for current flare-ups and prevent future ones.
There are a variety of types of eczema, including atopic dermatitis, contact dermatitis, dyshidrotic eczema, nummular dermatitis, and seborrheic dermatitis. The most common type of eczema is known as atopic dermatitis. Contact eczema is also common, occurring when your skin comes into contact with irritants. Contact dermatitis goes away when the irritant is removed. Atopic dermatitis is a chronic condition that can flare up intermittently. It is not contagious. While prevalent in children under the age of 5, atopic dermatitis can affect anyone at any age. Sometimes, eczema flare-ups become less common as a person ages. You can also develop eczema as an adult, even if you never had it as a child. Although there are many ways you can treat the symptoms, there is no eczema cure. Common eczema symptoms include dry skin, itching and skin sensitivity, raised bumps, red to brownish-grey patches, oozing or crusting, flakey and cracked skin, and thick skin patches. You may only have some of these symptoms or all of them. Eczema usually appears on the face and scalp in babies and on the hands, wrists, feet, ankles, eyelids, neck, upper chest, or behind the elbows and knees.
Doctors aren’t totally sure what causes eczema. It’s possible that it’s the result of your immune system overreacting to certain substances (such as environmental irritants or proteins in your body), leading your skin to become inflamed and irritated. Your skin is meant to act as a barrier for your body, protecting against damage and infection and keeping water and other bodily substances in. Healthy skin contains fats and oils to help your skin to retain water and to create the strong barrier your skin is meant to be. The National Eczema Society describes skin affected by eczema as having skin cells that are not plumped up by water, causing gaps between the cells, which compromises the barrier your skin is meant to be. Additionally, if you have eczema, your skin lacks some fats and oils, causing your skin to become dried out, cracked, and easily irritated.
Some of the irritants that can lead to an eczema flare-ups are dry and cold weather, sudden changes in temperature, hot water, harsh soaps and detergents, rough and scratchy material like wool, sweating, stress, food allergies, man-made fibers, contact with environmental allergens like animal dander, and some materials in jewelry such as nickel.
Now that you are familiar with the symptoms and triggers for eczema flare-ups, you are ready to learn how to listen to your body provide eczema treatment and prevent future flare-ups. The first line of defense is to keep your skin moisturized. Use a thick moisturizer several times a day, making sure to do one of your applications after you get out of the bath or shower. It is especially important to keep your skin from getting cracked because this can open up your skin to infection. If the weather is cold or dry, protect your skin with warm, non irritating clothing. As hot water can cause the drying out of your skin, use only lukewarm water and limit the time you spend in the shower or bath. Use only gentle soaps and detergents, and protect your skin if you are using harsh chemicals to clean or do other activities. As sweat can cause eczema flare-ups, wear cool clothing if you are exercising or going about your daily activities. Wipe excess sweat when possible. If you suspect your eczema is triggered by a certain food, try an elimination diet to see which foods your body is reacting to. The most common foods that cause eczema are dairy, gluten, eggs, shellfish, nuts, and soy. Be careful with what you wear, being observant to clothing and jewelry that might cause eczema flare-ups. You can also use certain medications with antihistamines and eczema creams that contain corticosteroids to help combat the symptoms of eczema.
Ready to get help for your dermatitis? Get in touch with one of the dermatologists at Vanguard Dermatology in the greater New York City area. Together, you can create a treatment plan that helps keep your skin protected and healthy.