ECZEMA: THE LATEST RESEARCH AND TREATMENT OPTIONS
Eczema is any general type of skin inflammation. Common types of eczema include contact dermatitis, seborrheic dermatitis, and dermatitis herpetiformis. In general, symptoms of eczema include rashes, scaly patches, redness, itching, and blistering. This irritated skin can be caused by a combination of genetics, environmental factors, bacteria on the skin, problems with the immune system, and skin sensitivities. Eczema is treated by avoiding items that trigger flare ups, moisturizing the skin, reducing stress, and taking over the counter antihistamines or prescribed corticosteroids.
With the right treatments, you can target eczema and effectively address the symptoms. The trademark dry, itchy skin does not have to destroy your quality of life. Before you resign yourself to a life of pain and embarrassment, learn more about the steps that you can take.
Know That You’re Not Alone
The first thing you may need to realize is that you are not alone. Research indicates that four to seven percent of adults and 15 to 20 percent of children are struggling with this disease. Studies are underway to determine the true cause and develop more effective treatments for this condition.
Learn the Signs of Eczema
If you have chronic patches of dry skin, then eczema may be the cause. In addition to general dryness, the skin may also be red with scaly, rough or leathery patches. In more advanced cases, the symptoms progress to include oozing or crusting and swelling. The intense itching alone can leave you feeling frustrated, but the more serious symptoms can also lead to embarrassment and even secondary infections. Only a doctor can formally diagnose eczema, so your first step should be to make an appointment with your family physician.
Familiarize Yourself With Outbreak Triggers
Eczema is generally an inherited condition, and doctors believe that it goes hand in hand with allergic diseases like hay fever and asthma. However, there are many external conditions that can lead to a painful outbreak. Learn more about the potential triggers so you can keep track of what you use and try to avoid them in the future.
- Bubble Baths – Soaking in a detergent can irritate the skin, but you can avoid many flare-ups by focusing on showers or using special medications in your bath water.
- Soaps and Detergents – People with eczema have very sensitive skin that cannot handle most harsh detergents and soaps. Look for products that are free of artificial colors, dyes, and perfumes to provide your skin with some relief.
- Chlorine and Harsh Chemicals – A day in the pool may sound relaxing, but the chlorine and other disinfects can leave skin feeling dry and irritated.
- Contact with Juices – Whether it’s the acidic juice of a lemon or the fresh juice from vegetables, the pH levels in many fruits, meats, and vegetables can upset your skin.
- Extreme Temperature Changes – Bundle up when it’s cold and let your skin breathe when it’s hot. Extreme temperatures can lead to an outbreak.
- Allergens – There are numerous allergens that will lead to problems with your eczema, including dust mites, mold, pollen, mold, and even dandruff. It’s recommended that you remove wall to wall carpeting and replace it with wood floors as these are easier to keep completely clean.
- Stress – If you’re feeling frustrated or you’re under high levels of stress, then it’s likely that the telltale patches of dry skin will appear. Establish better coping skills so that you can effectively deal with the stress without having the worries show on your skin.
- Hormones – There is no way to control your hormones. However, you may be able to speak with your doctor about topical or internal treatments to help with outbreaks when you go through hormonal changes.
Learn About Advances in Research
The great news for people with eczema is that advancements have been made in research on the condition. We’ve learned that the skin is designed to protect the body from all types of irritants, but people with eczema have weaker skin. It’s now believed that the problem lies in two areas of the skin. The upper-most layer, the stratum corneum, may be faulty. However, researchers now believe that there is also a problem in the cell-to-cell connections known as tight junctions. It’s believed that tightening both barriers would bring relief, but more studies are needed to find an effective way to treat this underlying cause.
To date, treatments have been non-specific and therefore not very effective. Creams and petroleum jelly are often used to improve the skin’s ability to function as a barrier, but these can also exacerbate the problem. Drugs have been prescribed to suppress the immune system, but this can result in side effects ranging from insomnia to weight gain and mood problems. While some of these may work as a short-term treatment, none of these options are effective for treating the disease over the long-term.
A Lifelong Condition
One of the most frustrating things about eczema is that it tends to be a lifelong condition. Outbreaks may come and go, but people who are suffering from it as a child will most likely live with the itching, raised bumps, and other changes in skin texture for the rest of their lives. In children, it commonly begins before the age of two, and remissions are few and far between.
Make Effective Lifestyle Changes
The good news is that there are some effective lifestyle changes that can be embraced. While you may not be able to take a medication and eradicate the condition, some people have learned to live with it. Follow these tips to reduce the occurrences.
- The right moisturizer for you is simply one that soothes the skin. This will be different for every individual, but you should start with gentle moisturizers that are labeled for eczema treatment. Once you find one that you like, use it every single day.
- Feel the fabric of any clothing before you buy it. Try to focus on cotton and other soft fabrics. Heavy wools and anything with abrasive fibers should be avoided. Additionally, wear clothing that’s loose and comfortable to avoid aggravating the condition.
- Adjust the temperature of your shower or bath to keep it lukewarm. Extreme temperature changes can irritate the condition, so avoid very cold or hot water. Moisturize immediately upon exiting the water to help trap the moisture inside your skin.
- Keep the air around you slightly moist to minimize dry skin. Consider investing in a whole-house humidifier so that every room in your home will be comfortable. If this is not an option, then get a humidifier for the bedroom and another one for the room you use the most during the day.
Keep a Food Diary
Some foods can also lead to an outbreak. As with so many other triggers, this will be different from one person to the next. Keep a journal outlining the foods you eat, medications you take, when you’re feeling stressed, and when your eczema is most active. Finding your triggers can make it easier to avoid them.
Gelatin-rich foods may calm your stomach while nourishing the skin, so consider adding some to your diet. Probiotic-rich foods are also excellent for improving overall skin health. It will take a concerted effort to add these to your diet, but it can make a drastic difference in your overall health.
Try Some Home Remedies
It’s possible to find relief with some home remedies. Some people have effectively used coconut oil to soothe skin and take the heat out of eczema. If the outbreak has advanced to the point of open lesions with wet or oozing skin, a sea spray may help it dry and heal. The water has vitamin D, magnesium, and other minerals that may help the condition heal.
If you enjoy taking baths, then add some magnesium to the water. Epsom salts or magnesium flakes are both great choices for alleviating the pain from eczema. One popular recipe uses one to two cups of Epsom salts or magnesium flakes along with one half cup of sea salt, half a teaspoon of natural vanilla extract, and 10 to 15 drops of essential oils.
Another option for bathtime is a plain oatmeal bath. It can noticeably sooth the skin and help moisturize your body. Oatmeal has natural, anti-inflammatory properties that can alleviate the discomfort of eczema so that you can start to truly feel better.
At this time, there are no surefire eczema treatments, but there are steps you can take to protect your skin and your sanity. With these smart changes, you may be able to overcome the pain and limit the frequency and severity of occurrences. Talk with other people in the community to find out what worked for them. What has helped them may not be effective for you, but most treatments are worth trying. With ongoing research, there is hope on the horizon. However, you can use this information now to try and take some control over the situation while you wait for scientists to find the cure.