There are many types of eczema, and each may have causes and triggers related to genetic conditions, stress, and other factors. People with eczema usually have an immune system that produces inflammation after contact with certain materials or due to environmental factors, leading to dry and itchy patches of skin.
No matter the causes, eczema is a condition that can be successfully managed in many cases. In observance of National Eczema Awareness Month this October, below are some basic guidelines that can help keep eczema under control.
Find the triggers
Certain materials and products at work, in the home, or in the environment can trigger eczema. Specific climates and seasonal weather changes can place you at greater risk of flareups. For example, places with extreme temperatures or very dry or humid air may make you more vulnerable to eczema triggers than places with moderate climates.
Regardless of your environment, it’s important to recognize and understand your specific triggers, because everyone has their own profile of allergies, reactions, and genetic predispositions. Discovering exactly what your triggers are can help you can avoid them as much as possible. This knowledge also can help your doctor determine what treatments may work best for you.
Making a list of activities and exposure can make it easier for you and your doctor to figure out what is triggering your eczema flareups. Keep track of these details:
- The skin care products, chemicals, soaps, makeup, household cleaning products, and detergents you use
- What kind of stress you experience, when, and how often
- Diet information, including regular meals, snacks, and beverages
- Activities that put you in contact with the elements outdoors (hikes, walks, beach and pool activities, gardening, etc.)
- Length of time in the bath or shower, and your usual water temperature
Not everyone finds it convenient to keep a correctly detailed eczema diary. Technology can help. Click here for details on an eczema tracking app for smart devices. Remember that flareups may happen long after exposure to an irritant or allergen, and these delays can make some triggers hard to identify.
- Keep skin moisturized, as dry, scaly skin is an invitation for a flareup. It’s important to moisturize your skin multiple times a day with a rich moisturizer.
- Keep your home extra clean, starting with keeping carpet, rugs, bedding, and furniture as dust-free as possible. Allergies to pet dander, mold and mildew, pollen, and dust mites have causal links to eczema flareups and can make symptoms worse.
- Use mild and fragrance-free soaps and cleaners. Hand soap, dish and laundry detergent, body wash, shampoo, and anti-bacterial soap can irritate skin.
- Use mildly warm or cool water, so that your skin is less stressed after handwashing and showering.
- Wear gloves when using cleaning products, as many surface cleaners and disinfectants can irritate skin.
- Avoid nickel, chromium, cobalt chloride, copper, and gold. Check your dinnerware, decorative objects, jewelry, and tools for these metals if it seems you are sensitive to them.
- Avoid using scented products. Chemicals in lotions, shampoo, cologne, and perfume can cause flareups.
- Stress hormones often cause inflammation, so try relaxation techniques that help reduce stress and anxiety.
- Choose loose-fitting clothing made from fabrics that breathe, like cotton or bamboo. Fabrics such as wool and polyester may irritate the skin.
- Wear light, breathable clothing on hot days, and turn on the air conditioning. If your eczema flares up during strenuous activities or when sweating, stop and apply cool compresses.
Talk to an expert
A board-certified dermatologist can create a treatment plan tailored to your specific type of eczema and your habits and environment. Dermatologists also can explain how often to bathe, moisturize correctly, and choose products that are less likely to trigger eczema. Through proper skin care, avoiding triggers, and medication or light therapy as needed, most people can keep their eczema under control.
Click here to learn more about UAB Dermatology, which is one of the top programs in the nation for managing complex skin disorders. In fact, it is one of only six Skin Diseases Research Centers in the United States, as designated by the National Institutes of Health.