Eczema in Adults: Dealing with Itching

The itching of eczema can sometimes feel unbearable. And yet, the more you scratch, the itchier your skin becomes.

To stop the cycle of eczema, here are six tips to soothe the itch.

1. Moisturize skin affected by eczema often.

In most cases, moisturizers are the first step in itch control. Applying moisturizer helps lock in your skin’s own moisture. “Recent studies reveal that individuals with eczema have gaps between the cells in their skin that allow allergens to get in,” says Andrea Cambio, MD, FAAD, medical director of Cambio Dermatology in southwest Florida. “Moisturizer can fill these gaps and make it harder for allergens to get into the skin.”

The key is to moisturize often, especially right after bathing or washing. Look for a moisturizer that is unscented, because additives and fragrances can irritate the skin. For the most moisture protection, choose a thicker ointment, like petroleum jelly. Ointments contain more oil than water and are more effective than creams or lotions at locking in moisture.

But the most important thing is to choose a moisturizer you like. “If you like how the moisturizer feels on your skin, you’re more likely to use it often,” says Lawrence Eichenfield, MD, chief of Pediatric Dermatology at Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego.

2. Take an oatmeal or bleach bath.

A short bath in lukewarm water with colloidal oatmeal can help ease itching. Purchase a pre-packaged oatmeal bath mix at your local drug store. Follow the directions on the label and soak about 15 to 20 minutes. After your bath, gently pat yourself dry with a soft towel. Then apply moisturizer right away, ideally while the skin is still damp.

Diluted bleach baths can reduce your risk of getting a skin infection that may worsen your eczema symptoms. For a bleach bath, add 1/2 cup of bleach for a full tub of water, or 1/4 cup for a half tub of water and mix well. Soak for about 10 minutes, and then rinse your skin with clean lukewarm water. Because bleach can be caustic, be sure to talk to your doctor first.

3. Use cold compresses to soothe itchy skin.

Cold compresses applied to the skin can also soothe itch. You can place an ice pack inside a plastic bag or soft towel. Hold the ice next to the itchy skin for a few minutes or as needed to help relieve itch.

4. Wear comfortable fabrics that feel good.

Choose comfortable, loose-fitting fabrics that make your skin feel good. Cottons and cotton blends are usually the most comfortable. Avoid course materials, wool, and synthetic fabrics since these fabrics can irritate your skin.

5. Keep your fingernails short to prevent skin damage.

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Does Your Baby Have Eczema?

Our babies inherit a lot from us: our height, our hair color — and our tendency toward sensitive skin, including eczema.

If someone in your immediate family has allergic tendencies, eczema may be the first sign that your baby shares that tendency, too, says pediatrician Chris Tolcher, MD, clinical assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Southern California School of Medicine.

Eczema can start as early as your baby’s second month. Symptoms can be mild and barely noticeable, or itchy and intense. Know the signs of baby eczema, how to treat it, and what eczema treatments to avoid.

9 Signs of Baby Eczema

Symptoms of eczema in babies include skin that is:

  1. Dry
  2. Tender
  3. Red
  4. Scaly
  5. Cracked
  6. Thick or leathery
  7. Itchy
  8. Crusting or oozing
  9. Has circular patches of red areas or light areas

Some of the symptoms above can indicate other problems such as diaper rash. So, don’t assume your baby has eczema. Talk to your baby’s pediatrician before treating the skin problem.

Baby Eczema: Top Tips for Treatment

Eczema, sometimes called infantile eczema, or atopic dermatitis, is a chronic inflammation of the outer layers of skin. The condition most often appears in children, though many outgrow it as they get older. For more severe cases of eczema, here are seven tips for treatment:

1. Avoid triggers. The problem with eczema is that skin is easily irritated, so “the main treatment is avoiding irritants,” Tolcher tells WebMD. Triggers that may irritate your baby’s eczema include:

– Dry air

– Animal dander

– Pollen, mold, and dust

– Harsh soaps and detergents

– Heat and sweating

2. Avoid scented products. What irritates eczema varies with each baby, says Tolcher, but start by avoiding fragrances in all products that touch baby’s skin, including soaps, shampoos, and lotions. Opt instead for mild body soaps or soap-free cleansers such as Aquaphor Gentle Wash, Basis, Cetaphil, Dove, or Eucerin. Also avoid perfumed laundry detergents, fabric softeners, and dryer sheets, and select “baby friendly detergents” such as All Free and Clear, Dreft, Ivory Snow, and Purex.

3. Moisturize. Moisturizing is the foundation of healthy skin for people with eczema, says California dermatologist Wendy E. Robert, MD. You can soothe your baby’s eczema symptoms by moisturizing skin at least two or three times daily, using a fragrance-free, hypoallergenic product. Look for oil-based ointments. These help lock in moisture better than lotions, which contain more water.

4. Use eczema creams. Creams that contain colloidal oatmeal or mild hydrocortisone can help ease itching and skin irritation. Some steroid creams may be too potent for infants, Tolcher says. Before using steroids on your baby’s eczema, always consult your doctor.  And don’t use hydrocortisone creams for longer than a week unless advised by your baby’s doctor. 

5. Consider oral antihistamines. Oral antihistamines like Benadryl, Claritin, and Zyrtec, may help if your baby’s itch is severe, says Tolcher. But consult with your pediatrician before giving your baby these medicines.

6. Keep cool. Hot water strips the body of skin-protecting oils, Roberts tells WebMD, so be sure to bathe baby in lukewarm water — and not too often — then moisturize soon after.

7. Avoid dietary changes. Certain foods can be an eczema trigger for some babies, but “sorting that out can be very challenging,” Tolcher says. “Don’t eliminate foods from your baby’s diet without the supervision of your doctor.”

That’s really the take-home message when treating your baby’s eczema symptoms: Talk to your pediatrician. Your doctor can verify that baby’s symptoms are eczema, and can help you pick the eczema treatments that are just right for baby’s sweet, sensitive skin.

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