If you’ve been diagnosed with eczema or think you may be struggling with this skin condition, you’re not alone. About 20% of infants and children will have eczema and about 15 million adults in the U.S. struggle with this condition. According to Dr. Aaron Fong of U.S. Dermatology Partners in Sterling, Virginia, “While eczema is common, it can be extremely frustrating for people who struggle with this condition as they may have to deal with frequent flare-ups. Luckily, a dermatologist can help you pinpoint your triggers and create a skin care plan to reduce the number and severity of your eczema flare-ups. The more you understand your condition, the better able you will be to manage eczema.” In this blog, Dr. Fong will review some of the eczema facts you should know in order to manage your condition and keep your skin healthy.
1 – There Is More Than One Type of Eczema
Dr. Fong says, “Eczema is an umbrella term used to describe a number of different conditions. Most often, people are referring to atopic dermatitis, but other forms of dermatitis and eczema may also be referred to simply as eczema. It’s important to work with a dermatologist to receive a specific diagnosis, so you know exactly what condition you’re dealing with and how best to manage your eczema.”
The specific types of eczema include:
- Atopic Dermatitis – The most common type of eczema and what most people think of when they’re talking about this condition. Symptoms include skin irritation, redness, itching, and inflammation. It can affect the whole body, but flare-ups are most common on the face, arms, and legs. It usually develops in children and may be triggered in adults.
- Contact Dermatitis – This type of eczema looks and feels very similar to atopic dermatitis. Rather than symptoms arising from internal factors, this condition is typically triggered by contact with environmental allergens and irritants.
- Dyshidrotic Eczema – This type of eczema usually develops during the spring allergy season and affects more women than men. In most cases, dyshidrotic eczema flare-ups are concentrated on the hands and feet.
- Nummular Eczema – This type of eczema is often difficult to diagnose because it affects people in a wide variety of ways. The most common symptom is that affected areas are usually small and coin-shaped. The name nummular actually comes from the Latin word for coin.
- Seborrheic Dermatitis – This type of eczema is chronic and impacts people of all ages. In infants, you may hear it referred to as cradle cap. In adults, most often those between 30 and 60, flare-ups are typically concentrated around the sebaceous glands (that produce skin oils called sebum), which is where seborrheic dermatitis gets its name. This typically means flare-ups are focused on the shoulders, nose, or scalp.
- Stasis Dermatitis – This form of eczema develops as a result of circulation issues and is most common on the lower legs. Stasis dermatitis occurs when the pressure in the dysfunctional veins causes fluid to leak below the skin, leading to itching, swelling, discoloration, and thickening of the skin.
2 – Eczema Is NOT Contagious
During an active flare-up, all forms of eczema can look and feel unpleasant. It’s important to remember that this condition is not contagious. No one will catch eczema from you. If you have what you believe is an eczema flare-up and people around you begin to develop itching and rashes as well, you may be dealing with a different skin condition like an allergic reaction to poison ivy, oak, or sumac, which can be transferred between people.
3 – The Cause of Eczema Is Often Unclear, but You Can Learn Your Triggers
According to Dr. Fong, “Eczema does not have a specific cause, but instead, it’s linked to a combination of genetics as well as internal and external triggers. Each form of eczema can have its own unique underlying causes, but for the most part, taking the time to pinpoint the triggers that often lead to flare-ups is more beneficial to managing your condition.”
Flare-ups in each person’s condition will have different triggers. As part of your eczema treatment plan, you will likely be asked to monitor your skin condition and keep track of anything that might have triggered the flare-up. While everyone is different, some of the most common triggers for eczema flare-ups include:
- Skin dehydration – Keep your skin hydrated by using a good moisturizer twice a day. You should also maintain adequate full body hydration by drinking plenty of water. This helps to ensure your skin cells get hydration from the inside out.
- Irritants – Limit your contact with chemicals, smoke, and metals. You should also take special care when choosing cosmetics, cleaning products, and skincare items.
- Stress – Stress causes a spike in cortisol levels that can trigger flare-ups in many skin conditions, including eczema, so do your best to reduce and manage stress.
- Temperature – Being very hot or very cold can change your skin health, which in turn can trigger an eczema flare-up. Try to maintain a consistent body temperature as often as possible.
- Hormonal changes – The body goes through a lot of changes when hormones fluctuate, and this can lead to an increased likelihood of an eczema flare-up. It can be difficult to avoid these natural body fluctuations, but being aware of how they affect your skin can make it easier to manage flare-ups.
- Allergens – Whether it’s seasonal allergies or environmental allergens like poison ivy, oak, and sumac, an allergic response is one of the main triggers for eczema flare-ups. Make sure you are working with a physician to manage allergies and treat any skin allergic reactions right away.
- Dietary changes – Consuming different foods or drinks can trigger eczema flare-ups. If you’re trying something new, pay attention to your skin for the next few days. If you notice an eczema flare-up, limit your consumption of these items.
4 – It Itches, but Scratching Won’t Help!
According to Dr. Fong, “Itchy skin is one of the most common symptoms of eczema. The itch and irritation can be extremely frustrating. You will be tempted to scratch, but try not to. Scratching not only won’t help, but it can even make things worse. Scratching at skin affected by eczema can lead to more irritation and inflammation or even infection. Instead, use anti-itch creams, ice, colloidal oatmeal baths, or other symptom relief steps to control the itch.”
5 – There Is No Cure, But You Can Manage Eczema Flare-ups
Unfortunately, there is no cure for eczema. Young children who have this condition may grow out of it, but adults with eczema will likely need to manage this condition throughout their lives. Some of the common treatments used to manage eczema flare-ups include:
- Over-the-counter anti-itch products, including corticosteroids, barrier creams, and hydrocortisone creams work well to manage itching and irritation.
- Phototherapy is performed by a dermatologist, and it uses low-level UVB rays to help soothe skin and promote healing during eczema flare-ups. It also triggers vitamin D production, which improves immune function.
- Oral or injected medications may also be prescribed by your dermatologist if other treatment steps aren’t effective at managing symptoms during an eczema flare-up.
Between flare-ups, it’s essential to create a prevention plan to limit the number and severity of eczema flare-ups. Dr. Fong recommends the following prevention steps:
- Keep skin moisturized, using a cream-based moisturizer at least twice a day.
- Don’t over-wash or use very hot water in the bath or shower. Cleansers and hot water will strip moisture from the skin. Use a gentle skin cleanser and bathe or shower in lukewarm or cool water. Apply your moisturizer immediately after your bath or shower to trap in all the moisture.
- Take a look at all of your cosmetics, skincare, cleaning, and laundry products. Go over them with your dermatologist and try to select products that have few ingredients and are gentle on the skin.
Find Out More at U.S. Dermatology Partners
The final recommendation for your plan to prevent an eczema flare-up may actually be the first thing you should do – work with your dermatologist to develop a daily skincare routine that will be most beneficial for your skin condition. If you have eczema and would like to learn more about how to manage and treat your condition, U.S. Dermatology Partners is here to help. To get started working with one of our knowledgeable dermatologists, simply fill out our online request form anytime. We’ll be in touch soon to finalize the details of your visit.
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