As if colds & flu weren’t bad enough, the cold, dry winter weather can also wreak havoc on your skin. Everyone needs to protect their skin from drying out in the cold but for those who suffer from Eczema the onset of winter can be particularly stressful. So before you resign yourself to three months of duct taping oven-mits to your hands every night, identify what triggers your Eczema and which remedies work for you. This can go a long way in helping control your symptoms.
Although eczema is itself is not life-threatening, it can certainly have a debilitating affect on a sufferer and their family's quality of life. Night-time itching can cause sleepless nights and place a significant strain on relationships (see aforementioned oven mits!). Eczema 'flare-ups' can often lead to absenteeism from work, school, personal activities & responsibilities. For some severe sufferers it can also mean hospitalisations & costly treatments.
WHAT IS ECZEMA?
Eczema is a medical condition that causes the skin to become inflamed or irritated. The most common type of eczema is known as atopic eczema. Atopic refers to a group of diseases or conditions that are often hereditary or have the tendency to develop other allergic conditions, such as asthma and hay fever. This is why eczema is commonly found in families with a history of other allergies or asthma.
Eczema usually presents itself as very itchy, dry and red or scaly skin. In the fair-skinned, these areas may initially appear reddish and then turn brown. Among darker-skinned people, eczema can affect pigmentation making the affected area lighter or darker. Sometimes, tiny blisters containing clear fluid can form and the affected areas of skin can weep. This is often a sign that the dermatitis has become infected. In infants, the itchy rash can produce an oozing, crusting condition that happens mainly on the face and scalp, but may appear anywhere. It is important to note that Eczema is NOT contagious.
CAUSES & TRIGGERS OF ECZEMA
One of the most frustrating things about eczema is that exact causes are often unknown. However, there are many triggers of eczema that can make it flare up or get worse. Below are some of the common triggers. You should learn what triggers your eczema to flare, try to avoid it/them and take steps to control it.
Irritants can make your symptoms worse. What irritates you may be different from what irritates someone else with the condition, but could include:
- Soaps and detergents, shampoos, dish-washing liquids, bubble bath
- Disinfectants like chlorine
- Contact with juices from fresh fruits, meats, vegetables
Allergens are substances that can cause the body to react abnormally (allergic reaction). Some of the most common allergens that can cause eczema include:
- House dust mites
- Pollens (seasonal)
Rapid changes in temperature
- High and low humidity
- Perspiration from exercise
- Dry cold weather
Food allergens can sometimes cause Atopic eczema, especially before the age of one. Food allergies associated with eczema causes are typically:
- Dairy products
- Nuts and seeds
- Soy products
Stress is also known to be associated with eczema but it is not fully understood how it affects the condition. Some people with eczema have worse symptoms when they are stressed. For others their eczema symptoms cause them to feel stressed.
There are a number of ways to manage eczema for both children and adults:
- Have shorter, lukewarm baths and showers – long hot showers will make symptoms worse
- Gently pat, DO NOT rub, the skin dry with a soft towel
- Use hypoallergenic products and avoid anything perfumed. Use sensitive skin washing powders and detergents
- Applying a moisturiser within three minutes after bathing to “lock in” the moisture
- Avoid rapid changes of temperature and activities that raise a sweat
- Reducing dust mites
- Avoid chlorinated pools. If you must swim in a chlorinated pool, moisturise your skin well when you get out
- Develop and maintain a daily skin routine – MOISTURISE, MOISTURISE, MOISTURISE!!!
Eczema responds well to anti-inflammatory creams. Topical steroids (corticosteroids) come in various strengths. Generally, it is better to use the lowest strength that works adequately. Using high-strength topical steroids for extended periods, especially on delicate areas like the face, can cause side effects, including thinning of the skin. It is best to apply cream to the reddened areas after bathing and make sure the skin is thoroughly dry.
In severe cases of eczema, a short course of oral corticosteroids may be necessary. This must be done under careful medical supervision because symptoms may become worse once you have finished taking the tablets. These treatments are available by prescription from your GP.
For symptomatic relief here are some home remedies that may help to give relief from the rash
- Thin layer of coconut oil or a coconut oil lotion bar to help cool itching and pain
- Apply vitamin E oil (preferably natural rather than synthetic) to affected area. You can break open vitamin E gel capsules for the oils
- Make a strong brew of chamomile (let it draw for at least 15 minutes). Apply to the eczema area with gauze for 20 minutes. This can be done more than once daily to relieve acute symptoms
- Aloe vera gel, especially when mixed with vitamin E oil, is a useful symptom remedy. Gels from freshly cut aloe vera leaves are best
- Cut thin slices of a whole cucumber and allow the slices to soak in water for at least two hours. Filter the liquid and apply it with a clean cloth or gauze where needed.
- Soak a washcloth in ice-cold milk and lay the cloth onto the itchy area. Repeat several times daily as needed to cool your itch
While these remedies may help to give you temporary relief, it is recommended to get a diagnosis from your family doctor. If your symptoms flare up or are particularly bad and you’re unable to see your regular doctor, don’t wait and suffer – call National Home Doctor on 416 631 3000 an OHIP covered, after hours, doctor home visit.