Several skin conditions lead to red, dry, itchy skin, but more often than not, the culprit is eczema. Eczema (or atopic dermatitis) is among the most common skin conditions, affecting nearly one-third of Americans in some way. While eczema itself isn’t life-threatening, its symptoms can range from mildly annoying to seriously painful. Eczema patients might even lose sleep due to the discomfort and/or may suffer from infection from scratching too aggressively at the affected skin.
For these reasons, most people will want to prevent eczema flareups and eliminate them whenever they occur. To do this, it helps to understand what causes eczema in the first place, as well as how to best treat it. Let’s explore the common causes and treatments for eczema.
Dermatologists still don’t know the underlying cause of eczema, but they do know that these outbreaks occur when the skin fails to protect itself from unwanted forces and materials, like bacteria, allergens, and irritants. Everyone’s skin is different, so one person’s eczema triggers might differ from someone else’s. That said, certain environmental factors seem to increase everyone’s chances of developing an eczema flareup.
An eczema outbreak is essentially an allergic response, which occurs when your immune system overreacts in the presence of an otherwise harmless or neutral substance. Different types of allergies can set off eczema symptoms, whether they’re related to food, animal hair, pollen, or anything else.
People often inherit their allergies from their family line. So, those with a family history of eczema, asthma, and other allergies are genetically predisposed to these conditions.
While allergies indicate an immune system malfunction, they don’t necessarily suggest that your immune system is compromised as a whole. That said, an immune deficiency can open the door to eczema and a host of other health concerns. After all, our skin is an important part of our immune system, protecting the rest of our bodies from harmful actors. If for whatever reason your immune system fails to function as it should, your skin may struggle to do its job.
Severe stress, both mental and physical, can suppress your immune system and lead to or aggravate an eczema rash.
Anything that irritates the skin, especially for prolonged periods of time, can also trigger an eczema outbreak. This includes things like friction from tight, scratchy clothing; long, hot showers; and contact with certain soaps, perfumes, dyes, and other irritating chemicals.
Atopic dermatitis is a chronic condition, meaning it sticks around for a long time. Those with eczema often have it for life, even if symptoms only show up now and again. Fortunately, while eczema can’t be cured (at least not yet), there are many ways to relieve eczema symptoms and prevent future outbreaks.
The best way to mitigate your eczema is by understanding your unique triggers and avoiding them as much as possible. This may require some minor lifestyle changes, such as taking shorter, lukewarm showers instead of long, hot ones, using dermatologist-recommended body wash products and moisturizers, wearing softer, somewhat looser clothing, and avoiding contact with irritating chemicals and allergens.
Of course, even if you take every precaution against an eczema flareup, symptoms can still show up. When they do, you have several eczema treatment options to choose from. Some of these treatments include topical steroids; non-steroidal medications like (Protopic®), Pimecrolimus (Elidel®), and Eucrisa®; and oral antihistamines, all of which are designed to reduce pain, itching, and general discomfort to reduce your risk of infection. If an infection does occur, oral or topical antibiotics may be prescribed.
Other treatment options include immunosuppressants to calm down overactive immune responses, phototherapy (i.e. laser therapy) to reduce itchiness and inflammation, and antibody injections like Dupixent®, which can relieve the effects of several allergies. As always, certain treatments are more or less effective depending on the type and severity of your eczema, as well as your unique biological profile.