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Eczema: Causes, Treatment, And Prevention
03/09/20238 min read
Atopic dermatitis, or eczema, is one of the most common skin conditions in the United States. According to the National Eczema Association, more than 10% of the country's population suffers from some form of eczema.
At Bodewell, we want to help you better understand this condition so you can manage it effectively. In this article, we share common causes of eczema, the best ways to treat it, and how to prevent eczema flare-ups so you can enjoy more good skin days.
Table Of Contents
- What Is Eczema?
- Eczema Symptoms
- Similar Conditions
- What Causes Eczema?
- How To Treat Eczema
- Eczema Flare-Ups
- How To Prevent Eczema
What Is Eczema?
Eczema is a group of skin conditions that may cause your skin to become irritated, itchy, red, and cracked. You may also experience a rash and crusty or scaly-looking skin.
There are seven different types of eczema. The most common type is atopic dermatitis, but other kinds of eczema include allergic contact dermatitis, irritant contact dermatitis, and seborrheic dermatitis.
Let’s quickly look at the types of eczema in more detail.
Types Of Eczema
When you think of the word eczema, this is the type that likely comes to mind. Atopic dermatitis (or AD) is known for the classic dry, itchy patches mentioned above.
If you notice eczema-like patches after you’ve been in contact with something, you could have contact dermatitis. Irritants such as nickel, chemicals, and soap are common triggers. So are allergens like latex.
This condition is also known as dandruff. In babies, it’s known as cradle cap.
Whatever it’s called, this condition causes scaly patches on oily parts of your body, such as your scalp. The area around your eyes may also be affected.
A less common form of the condition, dyshidrotic eczema appears as tiny blisters on your hands and feet. Sweat and other irritants can trigger this response.
This type of eczema manifests as a raised, round patch after a skin injury. You might notice it after you get a bug bite or burn.
People with poor blood flow may experience this type of eczema in their lower legs. This condition is closely linked to lifestyle habits, such as being sedentary and overweight.
This type of eczema has a mental health component. You see, when your skin is itchy, you usually scratch it. Unfortunately, this can trigger an intense itch-scratch cycle that’s hard to break. And sometimes, it causes your brain to tell you your skin is itchy even when it’s not.
This means you’ll scratch an area that isn’t really problematic, and you may keep scratching it until the skin gets thick and discolored and looks like an eczema patch.
Because so many variables can affect eczema, we recommend consulting a doctor with experience treating eczema. This way, you can ensure your condition is properly diagnosed and then treat it effectively.
Where Can You Get Eczema?
Eczema can occur on any part of the body. However, you’re most likely to experience symptoms on your:
Now that you know about the types of eczema, let's look more closely at the symptoms you may experience. You may notice these symptoms all the time, or they may come and go as your eczema flares up.
Dry skin is the most common symptom of eczema, and your skin can become so dry that it cracks.
The dry skin can appear anywhere on your body, but you'll often notice it around areas that bend, such as your knuckles, elbows, and knees.
Eczema-prone skin isn't just dry. It's also itchy. The itch can be so intense that it interferes with your daily activities and sleep patterns. You may even wake up in the middle of the night with an urge to scratch.
Eczema can cause your skin to become red and inflamed. Over time, this inflammation can cause patches of discolored skin.
On skin of color, you may notice dark brown, purple, or gray patches on parts of your body. This is a sign of eczema.
Rashes And Blisters
Raised, red bumps could be an indication of eczema as well. Clear fluid may occasionally seep out of the bumps, and they might also itch.
Crusting And Flaking
Eczema can cause your skin to become thick, raw, crusty, and scaly. This is especially true around the joints of your body that bend frequently.
A Burning Sensation
Some people with eczema also experience a burning sensation in areas with eczema. It feels similar to a sunburn and can be extremely uncomfortable.
As you scratch and rub your eczema-prone skin, it can become thicker over time. This symptom is known as lichenification.
Of course, eczema isn’t the only reason you might be experiencing some of the symptoms above. Here are a few conditions that sometimes mimic eczema.
Psoriasis is an autoimmune disorder that causes red, scaly patches on the skin. But unlike eczema, psoriasis doesn’t usually cause intense itching.
Rosacea is a common skin condition that causes redness and bumps on your face. It often appears in the form of visible blood vessels and can cause flushing of the skin.
This skin infection is caused by tiny mites that burrow into the skin. It’s highly contagious and causes intense itching and rash-like bumps.
Since ringworm and nummular eczema both cause coin-shaped raised spots, they’re easily confused. However, ringworm is a fungal infection often appearing as only one or two patches. With eczema, you’ll typically have more spots than that.
If you aren’t sure what’s causing your symptoms, it’s time to seek professional help. A board-certified dermatologist can help diagnose your condition.
What Causes Eczema?
Although the exact cause of eczema is unknown, researchers believe that allergies, environmental irritants, and genetics all play a role. Let’s take a look at each of these factors.
Scientists have discovered that allergies and eczema are closely connected. In fact, up to 80% of children who have eczema also develop allergies or asthma.
Why does this happen? When you're exposed to an allergen, your body might overreact when trying to fight it. This overreaction can cause your eczema to flare up.
Some common allergens include:
- Pet dander
- Mold spores
- Dust mites
If you suspect that your eczema is being triggered by allergies, it may be worth asking your doctor about an allergy test to determine what you are allergic to.
In addition to allergies, certain triggers in the environment can cause your eczema to flare up. These environmental factors can include everyday irritants you're exposed to or even the weather.
While the exact triggers that cause an adverse reaction may vary from person to person, some common triggers include:
- Cleaning products
- Animal dander
Changes in the environment are also connected to eczema. For example, some people experience flare-ups when the weather is hot and humid or when it's cold and dry.
While not everyone who suffers from eczema has a family history of it, there is a strong genetic component to this condition. If someone in your family has eczema, you're more likely to develop it yourself.
Scientists are still studying the connection between genetics and eczema, but many believe the genes you inherit might make you more sensitive to environmental triggers or make your skin less effective at protecting you from allergens.
Is Eczema Contagious?
Eczema isn’t a condition you can catch from someone else. It isn’t contagious.
While you can pass on the genetic propensity for eczema to your offspring, you won’t give it to them (or anyone else) through skin-to-skin contact or any other form of person-to-person transmission.
How To Treat Eczema
There is no one-size-fits-all treatment for eczema. The treatments that work for you will depend on the type of eczema you have, the triggers that cause it, and how severe your symptoms are.
However, some common treatments are available for all types of eczema. These include medications, wet dressings, therapeutic products, light therapy, and home remedies. Let’s take a closer look.
Dermatologists can prescribe topical and systemic medications to soothe inflammation and help alleviate your symptoms.
Common topical medications include:
- Calcineurin inhibitors
- Topical antiseptics
Topical medications often come in the form of creams, ointments, lotions, or gels, and you simply rub them on your skin.
Systemic medications, on the other hand, are taken by mouth or through a shot. They can help control your body's overactive response to allergens.
If your eczema is itchy and inflamed, a doctor may recommend wet dressings. To make a wet dressing, simply soak a cloth in cool water and apply it to the affected area. Then, leave it there for about 15 minutes.
This treatment can cool down your skin and help soothe inflammation. It can also help any topical medications you're using penetrate your skin better.
If you suffer from eczema, the good news is there are a variety of over-the-counter options that can help reduce your symptoms. These moisturizers, creams, and lotions often contain natural ingredients, such as colloidal oatmeal, to soothe and calm your skin.
We recommend our Eczema Daily Calming Cream to moisturize and soothe your skin. Uniquely formulated with colloidal oatmeal and a proprietary blend of clinical-grade botanicals, our cream relieves eczema itch and irritation, is fragrance-free, and is gentle enough for daily use.
There’s also a travel version, Eczema Daily Calming Cream: On-the-Go. This proprietary formula helps relieve your eczema itch and provides deep hydration without a greasy feeling.
You get three 2-ounce products. Keep one in the car, one at the office, and another in your purse. Then, no matter where you are when your eczema acts up, you’ll be able to get relief.
If you have moderate to severe eczema, your doctor may recommend light therapy. This treatment uses ultraviolet (UV) light to help heal your skin.
You'll likely need to go to a clinic or hospital to receive light therapy, as it’s not something you can do at home.
Home remedies are another great option for treating eczema, especially if your symptoms are mild.
Some people find relief by using cool compresses or taking an oatmeal bath. Others find that drinking plenty of fluids and eating a balanced diet helps keep their skin from getting red and itchy.
Here are other effective home remedies you can try:
- Put a dab of raw honey on places where you itch
- Apply diluted apple cider vinegar to irritated areas
- Run a humidifier in your home
- Use a cool compress to help relieve the itch
- Rub a small amount of aloe vera gel onto your eczema patches
- Take a diluted bleach bath
- Apply coconut oil to your skin
While you may still need additional treatment for your eczema, the natural remedies above can improve your symptoms and help you feel more comfortable.
Sometimes just when you think you’ve found a treatment plan that works for you, your symptoms return with a vengeance. This is known as a flare-up. Environmental or emotional stressors usually trigger flare-ups.
The best way to reduce the frequency and severity of these flares is to identify what's triggering symptoms in the first place. Depending on the underlying cause, you may need to adjust your lifestyle or change your treatment plan.
How To Prevent Eczema
Your eczema may never completely go away, but you can take steps to reduce the number of flare-ups you experience. Here are some of the most effective preventative measures for eczema symptoms.
1) Moisturize Your Skin
Eczema is often aggravated by dry skin.
To keep your symptoms under control, don't let your skin become too dry. Use a moisturizing body wash in the shower, and apply moisturizer when you're done to hydrate and protect your skin.
Opt for a thick moisturizing product that can penetrate deep into skin. This can provide long-lasting hydration.
2) Stay Away From Triggers
If you know that certain things trigger your eczema, try to stay away from them. For example, avoid pollen by staying inside during allergy season, steer clear of pets you’re allergic to, or avoid harsh soaps and detergents.
Take time to read the labels on all of your products. Opt for more plant-based cleaners to help keep your skin safe. Stay away from parabens, phthalates, and other chemicals that may irritate your skin.
If you must handle a product that you know causes problems, do everything possible to avoid direct contact. For instance, wear disposable gloves.
3) Manage Stress
Your mind and body are connected in inexplicable ways. This means that emotional stressors can manifest in physical symptoms. In other words, stress can make your eczema worse. So, if you're feeling overwhelmed, take some time for yourself every day to relax.
Practices such as yoga, meditation, and deep breathing can help calm your mind and body and, in turn, relieve eczema symptoms.
You can also:
- Take a walk in nature
- Unplug for a few hours
- Take a nap
- Color a picture
- Talk to a therapist
4) Take Short Showers And Baths
To care for your skin, practice good shower hygiene. Instead of taking a long, hot shower, take a five- to 10-minute shower with warm or cool water. This will help seal in your skin's natural moisture and prevent dryness.
If you prefer baths, keep these same principles in mind. Stick to cooler, shorter soaks in the tub. Your skin will thank you!
While you’re in the water, avoid scrubbing your skin. Use a gentle cleanser that doesn’t cause irritation, and carefully apply it to your skin. Rinse thoroughly to remove any residue that could make your skin itchy.
Once you get out of the water, don’t rub your body with a rough towel. This can break your skin’s natural barrier and make your symptoms worse. Instead, gently pat yourself dry.
Then, as mentioned above, apply a moisturizer while your skin is still damp.
5) Watch What You Wear
Certain fabrics may aggravate eczema. Try to avoid clothes made of wool, synthetic fibers, or other irritating materials. Stick to natural fabrics, such as cotton and linen, instead. These materials let air pass through, keeping you from overheating.
Avoid tight-fitting clothes, too. Clothes that are too tight can trap moisture and heat against your skin, leading to a flare-up. If possible, wear looser clothes that allow your skin to breathe.
Clothing tags can also irritate your skin and cause your eczema to flare. Opt for tagless garments or cut the tags off.
In addition, always wash new clothes before you wear them. This helps get rid of any chemicals or dyes that could irritate your skin.
6) Stay Hydrated
Dehydration can aggravate eczema symptoms, so stay hydrated from the inside out by drinking plenty of fluids. A hydrated body is a healthier body and can reduce the likelihood of skin irritation.
Aim to drink at least eight glasses of water each day.
7) Don’t Scratch
One of the worst things you can do for your eczema is scratch it. Scratching causes pain and discomfort and can damage your skin and make your symptoms worse. It also makes it easier for an infection to set in.
If you find yourself scratching a lot, wear gloves or place a bandage over the affected area to resist the urge. You can also try to distract yourself by keeping your hands busy or using a cooling gel.
8) Change Your Diet
Though research isn’t conclusive, some evidence suggests that changing your diet can improve your eczema symptoms. The recommended eczema diet minimizes processed, sugary foods and encourages whole foods, such as fruits and vegetables.
Here are some of the floods that researchers think may help keep your skin healthy:
- Nuts and seeds
- Fermented, probiotic-rich foods like kefir, sauerkraut, and kimchi
- Olive oil
- Leafy greens
- Herbal teas
And here are some foods that may make your eczema worse:
- Dairy products
- Fried foods
You’ll also want to avoid any foods you’re allergic to. If you aren’t sure, an allergist can help you pinpoint any food allergies.
9) Be Sun Smart
The sun’s rays can damage your skin and trigger eczema. To avoid this, always apply broad-spectrum sunscreen before you head outside. Add a floppy-brimmed hat for extra protection if you'll be out for long.
Also, stay in the shade as much as possible. If you’re swimming, consider wearing a rash guard or other protective clothing to minimize sun exposure. Oh, and don’t forget to reapply your sunscreen every few hours.
10) Connect With A Dermatologist
Eczema can be difficult to manage, so it's important to connect with an experienced dermatologist who can help you find the right treatment plan.
They’ll work with you to identify possible triggers, create an individualized care plan, and provide support throughout your skincare journey.
Clearer-Looking Skin Over Time
Eczema is a challenging condition that can be caused by a number of things, including allergens, environmental irritants, and genetics. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to find relief.
Medications and therapeutic products are a good choice for minimizing eczema symptoms, but you can also avoid flare-ups by eliminating environmental factors and taking shorter, cooler showers or baths.
To soothe and moisturize your skin, try our Eczema Daily Calming Cream. We recommend using it daily to help prevent irritation so you can live more freely from the limitations of skin conditions.
With the right tools and skin-friendly remedies at your disposal, you’ll have smoother, clearer-looking skin in no time!
American Academy of Dermatology Association American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology MedlinePlus National Eczema Association