Taking Care of Your Eczema

What is eczema?

Eczema or atopic dermatitis is a chronic inflammatory skin condition characterized by dry plaques that are red and severely itchy. The symptoms can be mild where the skin looks dry and scaly or the symptoms can be more severe where the skin becomes red, raised and raw with oozing crusting and scaling. The exact cause of eczema is unknown however research has shown there are genetic, immunological, and environmental facts that play a role. Eczema can come and go and move around the body. Sometimes when one patch goes another pops up.

Our skin is made up of two main layers, the dermis and the epidermis. The epidermis is the outer layer and the barrier to the outside world. It is somewhat waterproof and keeps our internal organs and systems safe from the elements and from bacteria that may try to invade our bodies. Healthy skin is like bricks and mortar. The oils in our skin that act like mortar hold together the skin cells that are like bricks creating a nice strong barrier.

Atopic dermatitis patients have an impaired barrier. That means their skin is broken down letting natural moisture out and letting in irritants and allergens in. This causes their skin to become dry and crack which constitutes the basis of an eczema flare-up. Flare-ups can be caused by environmental irritants or triggers such as certain soaps, laundry detergents, clothing fabrics, deodorants, perfumes and dust.

Environmental factors can have a big effect on eczema. To prevent irritation, minimize the use of soaps, solvents, and other drying compounds. If soaps are to be used they should have minimal defatting activity and a neutral pH. Non-soap cleansing agents are also available. Since residual laundry detergent in clothes may also be irritating, a second rinse cycle would be beneficial. Changing detergents may also help.

For hand dermatitis, it is important to avoid irritant contact with solvents, soaps and detergents. If you wash your hands frequently, it is important to apply emollients after every washing. Emu oil based lotions such as Skin Repair Rx Lotion are an excellent method of re-hydrating the skin after washing. Wearing appropriate gloves when using potential irritants is also important.

Allergens in the air and in food are often triggers for a flare-up of this disorder. Allergy testing is helpful in determining what allergens to avoid. Occasionally, using an electrostatic air purifier can help reduce aero-allergen exposure at home or in the workplace.

How to treat or manage your eczema

The goal of eczema management is to get moisture back into the skin and to create a barrier to protect the skin and eventually improve the patient’s own skin barrier function. Although there is no cure for eczema, being consistent and diligent with your daily skin care routine can aid in the relief of this disease.