Eczema is a chronic skin condition that may have a number of underlying causes. Flare-ups can vary from person to person, and one of the main ways to reduce the number and severity of flare-ups is to become more aware of environmental irritants that can make eczema worse. According to Dr. Seena Monjazeb of U.S. Dermatology Partners Houston Clear Lake, “People with eczema will have different triggers that cause a flare-up in this chronic skin condition. When we work with individuals who suffer from chronic eczema, we work with them to track their daily skin health, as well as make note of products and behaviors that may contribute to eczema flare-ups, including skincare routines, cosmetics, household cleaners, and detergents. This can help to identify the individual’s triggers, so they can minimize exposure to these products and improve overall skin health.” In this blog, Dr. Monjazeb will walk through some of the basic information about what eczema is as well as the common household irritants that contribute to flare-ups before recommending prevention and treatment steps to reduce the number and severity of flare-ups.
What Is Eczema?
Eczema is a common umbrella term used to refer to a group of chronic, inflammatory skin conditions. Subtypes include atopic dermatitis, dyshidrotic eczema, and nummular eczema. Each of these conditions causes itchy skin, irritation, redness, and other skin reactions during eczema flare-ups. The cause of flare-ups varies based on the type of eczema and the individual’s specific triggers. This condition isn’t contagious, but it can be uncomfortable. While there’s no cure for eczema, there are many prevention and treatment options available to manage flare-ups.
How Do I Know if I Have Eczema?
When it comes to eczema diagnosis, Dr. Monjazeb says, “In most cases, your dermatologist will be able to easily diagnose eczema from a visual examination of the skin. Tests may be performed to rule out other skin conditions that have symptoms resembling eczema. After diagnosis, we’ll start the process of tracking potential triggers to determine the underlying causes of eczema and start developing an ongoing prevention and treatment plan.”
Individuals should visit their dermatologist for diagnosis and treatment planning if they notice any of the following common warning signs of eczema:
- Red or brown-colored patches of skin
- Itching – can be so severe it impacts the quality of sleep
- Raised bumps that may weep fluid if scratched
- Thick patches of skin
- Inflamed areas
- Sensitive skin
What Causes Eczema?
According to Dr. Monjazeb, “Each variation of eczema and dermatitis has slightly different causes and risk factors, but the common issue that occurs in all types of eczema and dermatitis is that the skin’s protective barrier has gaps. These holes in the protective barrier make it difficult for the skin to retain moisture, and it also becomes easier for environmental irritants and allergens to cause skin inflammation and irritation.”
While anyone can develop eczema, certain factors may put individuals at greater risk for this condition, including:
- Eczema commonly develops in children around the age of five and is more common in children who have food allergies
- Having a family history of eczema
- Suffering from asthma
- Struggling with severe seasonal allergies, especially hay fever
Are There Common Household Products that Are Eczema Irritants?
Household products used every day can significantly contribute to eczema symptoms, so it’s important to pinpoint any products in the home that may be contributing to eczema flare-ups. According to Dr. Monjazeb, “When patients begin planning eczema treatment and prevention with their dermatologist, they typically need to track their skin’s symptoms as well as their activities to determine the underlying causes of eczema flare-ups. By tracking these symptoms and daily activities, patients are often able to make small adjustments that diminish their eczema flare-ups.”
Common household eczema irritants include:
- Pets, pet hair, and dander
- Central air and heat
- Certain foods (varying from person to person)
- Cleaning products
- Laundry products
- Lotions and creams
- Living in a very warm, humid environment
- Wearing clothes, using towels, or sleeping on bedding made from certain fabrics
How Can I Prevent & Treat Eczema?
To address eczema flare-ups, Dr. Monjazeb says, “Taking steps to identify and avoid triggers that lead to flare-ups is always the first step in any eczema prevention and treatment plan. After that, your dermatologist can help you develop an individualized skin care routine and ongoing treatment plan to minimize eczema symptoms.”
Some common preventive measures patients can take to reduce the risk of eczema flare-ups include:
- Change your showering routine – Use lukewarm instead of hot water in the shower to avoid stripping the skin’s moisture. You should also minimize the amount of time in the shower. Pat dry with a towel and then apply a moisturizer immediately after showering.
- Review your skincare and cosmetics products – Evaluate all skincare and cosmetics products, looking for ingredients like acids, retinols, preservatives like parabens, fragrances, and dyes that can exacerbate eczema symptoms.
- Evaluate cleaning and household products – Change to products that are formulated for sensitive skin, marked as hypoallergenic, or otherwise use gentle ingredients. Switching to a gentle, fragrance-free laundry detergent can be especially important. If you like specific cleaning products that irritate the skin, wear gloves and take other steps to avoid or minimize direct skin contact.
- Go through your clothes – Certain clothing, towels, and bedding fabrics can irritate the skin and trigger eczema flare-ups. Fabrics like wool, polyester, and nylon can be particularly tough on the skin. Consider removing these materials from your household, or minimize direct contact with skin.
In addition to taking these steps to prevent flare-ups, dermatologists may also recommend treatments to address symptoms of eczema during flare-ups, including:
- Anti-itch creams – Over-the-counter and prescription-strength corticosteroid anti-itch creams can help to reduce skin irritation. Overuse or long-term use of some anti-itch medications can cause skin thinning and other concerns, so make sure to consult with your dermatologist.
- Oral corticosteroids – To address severe inflammation and other symptoms of eczema flare-ups in the short term, oral corticosteroids may be prescribed.
- Antibiotic cream – Itching and open sores associated with severe eczema flare-ups can put patients at risk for skin infections. Antibiotic creams may be prescribed to reduce the risk of infection.
- Calcineurin inhibitors – These treatments can help to control the immune response to skin irritants and allergens that lead to severe flare-ups. Calcineurin inhibitors may have adverse effects, especially with long-term use, so it’s important to consult with a dermatologist before using these products.
- Biologics – Injectable biologic treatments may be recommended for people with severe eczema that has been unresponsive to more conservative treatment options.
- Wet dressings – For very severe flare-ups or widespread lesions, your dermatologists may choose to apply corticosteroids and wrap the affected areas in wet dressings. This treatment will either be performed in your dermatologist’s office, or your dermatologist may elect to train you to apply the dressings at home.
- Light therapy – This treatment option is typically only recommended for very severe eczema flare-ups. Light therapy involves applying controlled amounts of light to the affected area to jump-start healing and reduce inflammation.
Visit U.S. Dermatology Partners to Find Out More
At U.S. Dermatology Partners, we are happy to help patients who struggle with eczema to develop personalized treatment and prevention plans to maintain skin health. If you’re interested in learning more or scheduling a visit with your local office, take a few moments to complete our simple online scheduling request form. Once our team members in your area receive the scheduling request, they will be in touch to finalize the details of your appointment.
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