Struggling with eczema? Dr Johanna Ward shares her 5 best tips to defeat the itch.
By Jenny Cook
Eczema is a relatively common skin condition thought to affect around six million people across the UK. It is characterised by patches of skin becoming dry, inflamed and itchy, which can lead to excessive scratching and open sores. Eczema can also become inflamed when in contact with a particular irritant or allergen.
While eczema can occur anywhere on the body, the most commonly affected areas are the hands, knees and elbows. The condition can have a negative impact on both physical and mental wellbeing and – despite being so common – is often met with widespread ignorance.
While there is no specific cure for eczema, there are a few things you can do to manage the condition and avoid flare-ups. GP and cosmetic doctor Johanna Ward provides her expert tips on eczema management:
How to manage eczema
Eczema varies between individuals, meaning that what may cause a reaction in one person might not necessarily have the same affect on another, and vice versa. However, no matter what aggravates your eczema, the best course of action is to abstain from itching.
‘Eczema is almost always itchy no matter where it occurs on the body and although it may be tempting to scratch affected areas of the skin, this should be avoided as much as possible,’ says Dr Ward. ‘Sufferers can minimise damage or infection by keeping nails short and clean to minimise damage to the skin.’
Another good way of managing your condition is to take note of the things that cause inflammation (otherwise known as triggers). Once you have identified your triggers, you can begin to take steps to avoid them. Dr Ward suggests the following:
Certain materials, such as wool or nylon, can irritate the skin. This is because synthetic fabrics often don’t provide enough breathability for eczematous skin.
✅ Solution: dress smart
No, we don’t mean go everywhere in your ball gown or bow tie. Just be wary of what your clothes are made of. Cotton is probably the best fabric for people with an irritable skin condition, as it keeps the skin cool and has a soft texture.
Some sufferers may find that their diet can massively influence the severity of their eczema. Indeed, several studies have proved that some foods – such as milk and eggs – may trigger eczema symptoms
✅ Solution: know your body
The best weapon you have in these cases is knowing what foods cause problems and avoiding them. If you are unsure whether there is a correlation between your diet and your skin condition, keep a food log to monitor any potential trends.
- Dry skin
In pretty much all eczema cases, dry skin is at the heart of a lot of the itchiness. Skin that is excessively dry will also crack, bleed or ooze, and this can be extremely painful.
✅ Solution: moisturise
Setting up and sticking to a good skincare regime is essential for the management of eczema. Keeping your skin’s moisture intact is one of the most effective treatments at hand, so be sure to find a suitable hydrator or emollient. It’s always a good idea to use product that are designed specifically for eczema rather than general high street moisturisers.
It’s a well-known fact that stress can cause eczema to flare up. This happens because when you’re tense your body tries to protect your skin by boosting inflammation.
✅ Solution: find support
It’d be unrealistic to advise you to avoid stressful situations as life is always going to throw them at you. However, surrounding yourself with people who can offer support, help or advice can help you manage your stress. If it’s your condition that’s causing you to stress, then talking to other sufferers about their experiences can help.
- The environment
Extreme changes in your environment, such as pollution levels and temperature spikes, can aggravate your skin.
✅ Solution: keep cool
Although it may be tempting to turn up the heat in your home as the cold weather sets in, this can make symptoms worse as heat can inflame your condition. Try and make sure your body temperature remains regulated throughout the day.
Eczema treatment tips
NetDoctor’s resident pharmacist Rita Ghelani gives us the lowdown on the most effective treatments available to eczema sufferers.
‘People with eczema are usually prescribed two types of creams/ointments – a steroid cream and large tubs of emollients,’ says Ghelani. ‘The steroid creams will help to reduce any redness and inflammation of the skin and the emollients help to rehydrate the skin. The NICE guidelines recommend that people with moderate to severe eczema use a 500g tub of emollient each week.’
‘Moisturising the skin is vital for managing the symptoms of eczema, and emollients are a great way to manage it,’ adds Ghelani. ‘I would recommend that patients apply an emollient regularly throughout the day to keep the skin hydrated at all times. It is also a good idea to apply an emollient straight after a bath or shower to lock in moisture.’