How to Reduce Eczema Itching
Eczema, or atopic dermatitis, affects every age group, but most often arises in infancy or young childhood years. It consists of dry skin and a red itchy rash that can be found anywhere on the body, but is most commonly located on the bends of the arms and the backs of the knees.It is commonly associated with other allergic-type conditions, meaning that people with food allergies, asthma, or hay fever are more likely to have eczema as well. It also has a tendency to run in families. One of the most challenging symptoms to manage can be the itch, so read on to find out strategies to manage and reduce itching and scratching!
Reducing Itching and Scratching via Lifestyle Methods
Choose fragrance-free products for sensitive skin. This includes products such as soap and laundry detergent, as well as things such as lotion.
- Avoid bubble baths for children.
- Use non-drying, mild soaps such as Cetaphil, Dove, or Aveeno.
- Avoid any products that contain alcohol, as these can dry out skin.
- Avoid using things like fabric softeners or dryer sheets, as these usually have fragrances that can cause irritation.
Wear clothes with natural fibers close to your skin. Fabrics such as cotton, silk, and bamboo are often less irritating on the skin than polyester.
- Wool should be avoided, as it is known to irritate the skin.
- Wash new clothes before you wear them. This can help remove any agents left over from manufacturing that might irritate your skin.
Maintain a cool temperature in your surroundings. Heat and sweating can make the condition worse, so it is important to be aware of the temperature of your environment.
- Always rinse your skin off after sweating. In addition to the fluid loss that can cause dry skin, sweating also leaves salts on your skin that can cause irritation and flare-ups.
Use a humidifier during the day and at night. Eczema is known to go hand-in-hand with dry skin, so adding moisture to the environment can help to diminish the severity of symptoms.
- Keep your humidifier clean. The humidity in a humidifier is a perfect place for mold, mildew, and bacteria to grow. Clean it regularly according to its instruction manual.
Apply cool, wet compresses to areas with severe irritation and itchiness. This can help to reduce the sensation of itching.
- Soak bandages or light towels in cool water. Wring them out until they’re moist but not soaked. Wrap them around your skin in the affected areas.
Soak the areas affected by eczema in a warm anti-itch bath. Over the counter anti-itch soaks containing oatmeal are available at your local pharmacy or drugstore. In general, do not bathe children with eczema more than 2-3 times per week, or you could actually make the condition worse.
- Another option is to make a homemade anti-itch bath soak for eczema by adding baking soda and oatmeal to a bath. Soak for 10 minutes.
- You can also try a bleach bath, which will help reduce bacteria on the skin. Add ½ cup of household bleach to a bathtub full of warm water. Soak for about 10 minutes. Do not submerge your face or get the water in your eyes. Rinse with clean water. Talk to your doctor before giving your child a bleach bath.
- Do not allow children to soak in the bath for more than 5-10 minutes.
Moisturize patches of eczema with non-irritating moisturizers. You should apply moisturizer as soon as you get out of the bath. Your doctor or dermatologist will be able to recommend products that will not irritate your skin.Look for products that are fragrance-free and designed for sensitive skin or eczema.
- Pat the skin dry after washing, and use a thick moisturizing cream, lotion, or ointment to seal in moisture. Aim to moisturize within 3 minutes of towelling off.
- Try to moisturize 2 to 3 times per day.
- Petroleum jelly is fragrance-free and can often work very well to keep irritated patches moisturized.
Keep your nails trimmed. Longer nails can do damage to skin if you scratch at your eczema. Trim your nails short. If you have children, cut their nails short too.
- If your child cannot keep from scratching, consider having him or her wear gloves or bandages over the fingers to avoid excessive damage to the skin.
Be aware of your “triggers.” For some people this is certain foods, dust, soaps, clothes, perfumes, etc.Keep a list of triggers you can associate with flare-ups of your eczema, and avoid these whenever possible.
- Prevention is the best medicine, so if you can recognize and avoid triggers it can greatly diminish the severity of your symptoms!
Manage your stress. Stress is also known to be a trigger for eczema, and it has been shown that effective stress-reduction techniques, as well as diminishing the overall stress in your life, can improve symptoms and reduce the amount of flare-ups.
- Try yoga or tai chi for easy stress relief.
- You may also find that meditation helps relieve your stress.
- Avoid excessive caffeine.Caffeine can cause stress-like symptoms such as rapid heartbeat or jittery feelings.
Ensure that you get appropriate treatment. If you cannot get your eczema under control with lifestyle methods, it is important to consult your physician around appropriate medical treatment. This is because excessive scratching can lead to complications, such as infections, eye problems, or permanent skin changes.Potential complications include:
- skin infections
- permanent changes to the texture and color of the skin (called “neurodermatitis”)
- eye complications (from excessive eye watering, eye discharge, and inflammation that often come hand-in-hand with the eczema rash)
- hypopigmentation (decreased skin color) or hyperpigmentation (increased skin color), which may be permanent
- “eczema herpeticum,” which is when the herpes simplex virus (which is the same one that causes cold sores) gets into the open areas of the rash that have been excessively scratched.
Reducing Itching and Scratching via Medical Treatments
Use moisturizers. Any over-the-counter non-irritating moisturizing agent can be helpful in eczema (because, as previously mentioned, eczema tends to go hand-in-hand with dry skin).
- If over-the-counter moisturizers are insufficient, speak to your doctor about prescription moisturizing options.
- Often ointments can be more effective than over-the-counter lotions, as they form a stronger barrier to keep the skin’s moisture in. They are also usually less irritating to your skin.
Take oral antihistamines if itching is severe. Over-the-counter antihistamines may provide temporary relief from some of the symptoms of eczema,although they should be used with other treatments such as moisturizing. Stronger antihistamines may need to be prescribed by your doctor.
- Antihistamines that are also sedatives, such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl) may help you sleep better, which could help with itching. Consult with your pediatrician before giving antihistamines to children, especially sedatives.
Ask your doctor about “corticosteroid” creams or ointments. An example of this would be hydrocortisone , although there are also some stronger ones your doctor can prescribe if needed.
- These work by diminishing the skin’s “immune response,” which in turn reduces inflammation, the size of the rash itself, and the itchiness.
- Corticosteroid creams or ointments applied to the skin are helpful and effective treatments for eczema, but you should always use them only as recommended by your doctor.Improper use of corticosteroids can cause infection, skin damage, or further irritation, among other side effects.Do not share your prescription creams with others, even if they also have eczema.
Talk with your doctor about acupuncture. Acupuncture is sometimes effective for relieving pain, and studies suggest that acupuncture may help reduce itchiness from eczema. Acupuncture generally does not produce severe side effects, so it may be a good choice if you are having trouble managing the itch with medication alone.
- Look for an acupuncturist who is licensed by the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine .This non-profit agency helps regulate the practice of acupuncture for safety and effectiveness.
- Many insurance plans do not cover alternative therapies such as acupuncture. However, they may be more likely to do so if referred by your doctor. Consult with your doctor, who can help you find a licensed practitioner in your area.
Consider oral corticosteroids for very severe flare-ups. These medications are for short-term use only due to the potential side effects such as cataracts, osteoporosis, lowered infection resistance, high blood pressure, and thinning skin.
- However, for short-term treatment of severe flare-ups your doctor may recommend briefly taking the pill form to get the rash and itch exacerbation under control.
- Other anti-inflammatory agents and immune-modulating pills may be prescribed if your condition is very severe. These treatments may include cyclosporine, methotrexate, or mycophenolate, all of which can have serious risks and side effects.Only you and your doctor can decide whether these treatments are right for you.
Know what can trigger a flare-up. Doctors do not know exactly what causes atopic dermatitis, or eczema. The severity of the rash and the itch can range from mild to severe, and it often has intermittent flare-ups that can be random or associated with certain triggers such as soaps, detergents, or other allergens.The following may also trigger a bout of eczema:
- Skin staph infections
- Certain foods, particularly if you are allergic
- Environmental changes, such as temperature or humidity levels
- Tobacco smoke or air pollution
Recognize the symptoms of eczema. Symptoms vary widely depending on the person. Most people develop symptoms before age 5. These include:
- Itchiness, especially at night eczema may even disturb your sleep
- Severe dry skin that may crack or become scaly
- Patchy skin with red or brownish-gray color
- Small bumps or blisters that may burst and crust when scratched
- Intermittent flare-ups of rash and itch
Distinguish between eczema and other skin conditions. Dry skin on its own, without redness, bumps/blisters, or other symptoms, is usually caused by your environment, rather than a medical condition. Other skin conditions, such as psoriasis, hives and fungal infections of the skin such as ringworm, can also cause dry skin and itching.
- Symptoms of plaque psoriasis include thick, red, scaly patches of skin; dry skin that may crack and bleed; itching and burning; changes to your fingernails and toenails; and joint pain. These symptoms are usually cyclical. You should seek medical attention for psoriasis.
- Symptoms of hives include pink or red swollen bumps; swelling that may appear and disappear; and welts or bumps that may occur over a large area of skin. Hives are often triggered by allergic reactions. You should seek medical attention for hives.
Know when to seek additional help from your doctor. You can often control the itch at home, but your should see your doctor if any of the following apply:
- Your eczema is disrupting your ability to function
- You have a lot of pain
- Your skin looks infected (redness, pus, scabs, swelling)
- Your attempts to manage the itch have not been successful
- You believe you are experiencing difficulty with your vision.