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How to Treat Eczema

If you have this chronically itchy skin condition, the winter chill is likely flaring it up like whoa. Here’s how to cope.

| January 10th, 2014
How to Treat Eczema (Because It Sucks)

While frosty months have us enjoying hot cocoa and roaring fires, there’s another wintry tradition that is far less fun: eczema.

Icy temps often kickstart this common condition that affects 30 million American children and adults—a number that has tripled over the past 30 years. Eczema is marked by inflamed red plaques that itch incessantly, and is a medical condition that goes beyond more than just a side effect of dry skin.

“When one has eczema, there’s an alternation in the skin that allows essential water to escape, allowing pollen, dust mites and bacteria to enter,” explains California dermatologist Neal Bhatia, M.D. The resulting dry patches then feel itchy, launching an endless cycle of scratching that can worsen instead of relieve symptoms. “The scratching can become so intense that the skin develops fissures and infectious bacteria can enter, compounding an already bad situation,” adds Dr. Bhatia.

The dry, scaly patches that are the hallmark of eczema can appear virtually anywhere, though the scalp, face, and skin flexes (like the inside of the elbow) are common culprits. Many people aren’t aware that tough blisters that form around nailbeds can also be eczema.

In addition to prevalent triggers like cold, dry air and times of stress, products you apply to your skin can inadvertently aggravate the problem. “Fragrances are known irritants, and with eczematic skin, the main goal is to keep skin moisturized and the barrier in tact, while reducing any type of potential irritant that may exacerbate the condition,” advises Alexandra Kowcz, Vice President of Research & Development at Beiersdorf, Inc., makers of skincare brands Eucerin, Aquaphor and Nivea.

People who experience eczema on their hands are advised to wear cotton-lined, waterproof gloves when washing dishes or handling irritating substances. Sweat can also bring on an attack, so it’s best to shower soon after working out. And as with most things in life, stress has been shown to both trigger and worsen symptoms.

Some allergists believe that eliminating eggs, dairy products and nuts may facilitate relief for some sufferers. Taking essential fatty acid supplements like omega-3s daily can also help. “Most people with skin inflammation have an imbalance of oils in their body, so taking anti-inflammatory oils with a blend of GLA, EPA and DHA is good, along with cutting back on animal fat,” says Susan Blum, M.D., founder and director of Blum Center for Health and author of "The Immune System Recovery Plan."

When the going gets itchy, many sufferers try to treat symptoms by piling on the lotion. While intercepting the rash with moisturizer the moment you feel it coming on can help quash the onset, not even the most hydrating routine can push some flares into remission. A prescription steroid might be necessary to resolve the underlying inflammation to ultimately end the cycle, says Dr. Bhatia. So seek the expertise of a board-certified dermatologist if eczema is an ongoing issue for you.

Fortunately, there’s a bunch of products—some new launches, some old favorites—aimed specifically at preventing and easing the symptoms of eczema sufferers. Check out our top picks, and remember to moisturize often to feel most comfortable this winter and prevent another round from beginning.

 

 

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