Imagine waking up in the middle of the night just to scratch that insanely itchy rash on your leg. What about making your bed and finding flakes of dry skin all over your brand new 1000-thread-count sheets? For 10-20% of the population, this is life.
These are the stresses of someone with severe eczema and yes, it can be just as gross as it sounds. Eczema, clinically termed atopic dermatitis is by no means life threatening but it can be extremely annoying. We talked to dermatologist Dr. Fran E. Cook-Bolden, who specializes in working with skin of color, to learn a little more about this affliction and get suggestions on how to make it easier to live with.
The most important thing to know about issues of this sort is exactly what causes it. Says Dr. Cook-Bolden, "Most eczema is hereditary. It is often linked to allergies, including hay fever." A particular subset of people are more prone to eczema: asthmatics. "These persons are considered 'atopic,' which means they are far more susceptible to even minor irritation (i.e. chemicals, detergents, foods, nickel, etc.) and stress-related skin disorders. Some researchers think stress may trigger eczema, but they haven't yet been able to make the direct scientific link," she continues.
While this surely doesn't sound like the best news ever, with advice from Dr. Cook-Bolden and our own fact-finding mission, we've found some solutions to help ease the discomfort of this pesky disorder.
When it comes to the best way to treat your eczema at home, Cook-Bolden could not have been more clear. "Moisturize, moisturize, moisturize. Hydrate the skin and seal in the moisture, then rehydrate the skin and seal in the moisture again. This is the drill. Moisturizers need to be applied three times a day for the best results. It seems like a lot, but if done in the morning before dressing, on return from work, school or your daily activities and at bedtime, it helps to simplify the routine." She recommends Avene Thermal Spring Water ($16.00, drugstore.com), which will keep the skin hydrated and contains calming properties to help soothe the itch.
This one step, however cannot fight the eczema by itself. Sealing it in with a "bland protecting moisturizer" should aid in keeping the skin fresh and healthy. A favorite is Aveeno Eczema Therapy Moisturizing Cream ($9.19, drugstore.com). This cream is thick, but not too oily, and perfect for the cold winter months when eczema is more likely to flare up.
For super flare-ups, Dr. Cook-Bolden suggests an over-the-counter 1% hydrocortisone cream. Try Equate Hydrocortisone 1% Cream ($4.00, walmart.com), which immediately soothes inflamed, itchy skin.
A fabulous DIY remedy is oatmeal, from old-school Quaker Oats to organic McCann's Steel Cut Irish Oatmeal ($7.99, thenaturalstore.com). Not only does oatmeal make amazing breakfast, but it also can be altered into an inexpensive at-home eczema treatment. Oatmeal contains polysaccharides, and when added to water they take on a Jell-o-like consistency. This leaves a protective film on the skin that helps fight off everyday elements that make eczema worse.
Add a cup of oats to a blender and grind until powdery. Add to warm bath water and allow yourself to soak for about 20 minutes. Another option is to add water, by the tablespoon, directly to the oat powder until a thick enough paste forms to form a mask. Use the paste to cover inflamed spots and clean off after 20-30 minutes. When drying off, either post-mask or post-bath, make sure to gently pat your skin dry; rubbing will only irritate the skin further.
Finally - and most importantly! - keep those fingernails away from any eczema-affected areas. Do not scratch! While this will undoubtedly bring you very immediate relief, this will only make the itching worse in the long run. From the first sign of a dry patch that forces you to scratch uncontrollably, your best bet is to see your doctor. Your health professional is the best person to get advice from regarding this issue.
Are any of you fighting this frustrating problem? Tell us some of the ways you help keep your itch at bay.