Eczema (also known as dermatitis) is a condition where certain areas of your skin become itchy, dry, inflamed, red, cracked and rough.
It is a non-contagious skin condition and can affect people of all ages. There are numerous types of eczema, varying from mild to severe. According to the National Eczema Society one in 12 adults in the UK suffer from eczema.
If you are an eczema sufferer, you will be all too aware of how unbelievably hard it is to resist the itch. However, by giving into the urge to scratch, you can actually make your eczema a lot worse. Some people may even scratch to the point they start to bleed, which can increase your risk of infection.
What triggers an eczema flare-up?
Eczema triggers vary from person to person and there are a number of things that can trigger eczema symptoms. Some common triggers include:
- Irritants – including: soaps, washing powder, shampoo, washing-up liquid and bubble baths.
- Environmental factors or allergens – such as cold and dry weather, dampness, house dust mites, pet fur, pollen and moulds.
- Food allergies – such as dairy, eggs, peanuts, soya or wheat.
- Certain fabrics – such as wool and synthetics.
- Hormonal changes – women may find their symptoms get worse in the days leading up to their period or during pregnancy.
- Stress - sudden or ongoing stress can also cause an eczema flare-up.
What treatments are available for eczema?
Topical corticosteroid creams and emollients: In the first instance, Doctors will usually prescribe you emollients that you can use when bathing and topical steroid creams. Some treatments that you can buy online from Prescription Doctor include:
- Eucerin Intensive is a moisturising lotion, which hydrates dry skin by locking in moisture and replenishing the protective layer of oils on the surface of the skin.
- Hydromol Bath and Shower Emollient is used to strengthen the outermost layer of skin to lock in moisture.
- Eucerin Bath and Shower Oil calms and soothes dry skin to help relive itching.
Treatments for more severe cases of eczema include:
- Systemic corticosteroids -
- If topical treatments are not effective, your doctor may prescribe systemic corticosteroids. These are either injected or taken orally, but they are not for long-term use.
- Antibiotics -
- These are usually prescribed if your eczema occurs alongside a bacterial skin infection.
- Antihistamines -
- These can help relive itching, and they have a sedating effect, which is helpful to stop you from scratching in your sleepy state. Non-drowsy antihistamines may also be available.
- Phototherapy/light therapy -
- This involves exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light to help reduce eczema symptoms.
What can you do at home to help prevent flare-ups?
You can take the following steps at home to help prevent your eczema flare-ups:
- Ensure you are using a moisturiser/emollient daily, especially after you bathe to seal the moisture in. Throughout the day if you feel like your skin is drying up or feeling itchy always reapply your moisturiser/emollient.
- When you bathe, avoid using hot water as it can irritate your skin and dry it out further. Stick to lukewarm water and pat your skin dry opposed to rubbing it.
- Use disposable gloves when you are at risk of coming into contact with irritants.
- Wear loose clothes that are made of natural materials and avoid synthetic fabrics.
If you feel like your eczema if getting worse and is interfering with your daily life, always go see your doctor. You may need to be referred to a dermatologist who specialises in skin conditions.
It is a good idea to keep a diary to help identify your eczema triggers to notice a pattern. Things to make a note of include:
- What you eat and drink.
- What skin products, chemicals, soaps, make-up and washing powder you use.
- What activities you do, for example taking a walk outside in the woods or swimming in a chlorinated pool.
- How long you spend in the bath or shower and the temperature of the water you use.
- How often you feel stressed and why.
By making these notes it should help you to begin to notice connections between what you are doing day-to-day and your eczema flare-ups. Bring this diary to your doctor appointments to help them pinpoint your triggers.
Your doctor can discuss your condition with you and suggest the most suitable treatment for you. This can be as simple as suggesting a washing routine or over-the-counter skincare product, to prescribing a specific course of treatment.
If your condition is caused by a specific cosmetic product or medication, speak to your doctor or a pharmacist about alternative products. While you shouldn't stop taking a prescribed medicine without permission from your doctor, you can discuss side effects you experience with your doctor or a pharmacist. Following this discussion, your doctor may be able to change your medication or a pharmacist can suggest a treatment for your eczema or recommend alternative cosmetic products.
Living with eczema can also have an impact on your emotional well-being. It can make you feel anxious, embarrassed and effect your confidence. It can also make you feel angry, frustrated or depressed, leaving you too upset to do your usual activities. This stress can worsen your symptoms due an increase of the stress hormone cortisol. At high enough levels, cortisol can increase inflammation in the body.
Please remember, if you are finding it difficult to cope with the psychological impact of eczema, you may need to consider finding extra support. Always speak to your doctor if you are struggling with your mental health - they can help put you in contact with appropriate support groups and organisations to help manage your mental health.