About 16.5 million people suffer from the itchy, dry, sometimes painful effects of atopic dermatitis, commonly known as eczema. If you’re one of them, don’t despair; there are plenty of ways to avoid the things that trigger your eczema flare-ups and treat them when they do occur.
Here at Easton Dermatology Associates, our team of experts calms the irritating symptoms of eczema for patients throughout Easton and Salisbury, Maryland. And we’re big believers in the old adage: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure — especially when there is no cure. In honor of Eczema Awareness Month, we’ve compiled this overview of eczema so that you can learn to spot it, know how to avoid it, and understand when to seek treatment.
What is eczema?
Eczema is a red, itchy rash that appears anywhere on your body, even the palms of your hands, the soles of your feet, your scalp, and your eyelids. It’s typically accompanied by very dry skin, and in severe cases, you may see thick, scaly, cracked skin or raised bumps that ooze fluid and crust over.
Although symptoms of eczema may come and go — they may even disappear for a few years and then return — once you have eczema, you have it for life. In most sufferers, it shows up in infancy and continues through adulthood.
What causes eczema?
Although food allergies may play a role in the development of eczema, it’s widely believed that the main cause is a gene variation that alters your body’s ability to retain moisture and protect you from the outside elements.
You’re more likely to have eczema if it runs in your family, and it’s also strongly linked to allergies, asthma, and hay fever.
Is eczema serious?
In and of itself, eczema isn’t a serious medical condition, but it can lead to some complications, such as:
- Excessive scratching that leads to infection
- Neurodermatitis: thick, leathery skin caused by constant scratching
- Sleep disorders (when scratching interrupts sleep)
- Contact dermatitis, a form of eczema caused by touching an allergen
- Hay fever and asthma
Each of these complications is treatable, but the best way to avoid these conditions is to keep your eczema under control.
Knowing your triggers
Your eczema may flare up when the weather changes, but someone else who suffers from eczema may only see symptoms when they eat a particular food. Here are some common triggers to help you learn what sets off your rash:
- Irritants (soaps, detergents, perfumes, metals, chemicals, smoke, etc.)
- Dry skin
- Certain foods (eggs, soy, milk, wheat)
- Excessive sweating
Once you discover what makes your eczema worse, you can do your best to avoid those triggers and prevent the problem from appearing in the first place. Of course, you can be proactive as well by incorporating a few common-sense habits into your daily routine.
For example, switch to soaps and detergents formulated for sensitive skin because they’re made without irritating colorants and fragrances. Also, keeping your baths and showers to under 15 minutes can keep your skin from drying out, and moisturizing at least twice a day can give you added protection and keep your skin soft and comfortable.
And believe it or not, soaking in a bath of diluted bleach can do wonders for your itchy eczema-ridden skin. Use only half a cup of bleach per 40 gallons of water (that’s about what it takes to fill a standard tub), and lower yourself in for about a 10-minute soak. But don’t overdo it — once or twice a week is the max for this treatment.
When to seek medical attention for eczema
With diligence and a bit of luck, you can keep your eczema under control with these at-home remedies, but when your symptoms get out of hand, keeping you up at night and in hiding during the day, it’s time to come see us. And if you see any signs of infection (oozing, extreme redness, inflammation) or bleeding, that’s another sign that you need next-level help.
Our team thoroughly evaluates your condition and recommends an appropriate treatment for your unique symptoms. If you have an infection, an antibiotic can help you fight it. For severe itching and damaged skin, we offer prescription creams and ointments. And corticosteroids can get your inflammation under control.
If you know you have eczema or are wondering if you do, call us at either our Salisbury or Easton locations to set up an appointment with one of our caring, experienced providers, and explore your options.