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Eczema or dermatitis refers to a group of different inflammatory skin conditions that usually begin in early childhood and can be quite long-lasting.
The most characteristic symptom of most types of eczema is the development of red, dry, itchy, and irritated patches on different areas of the skin.
These rashes typically appear on the face, arms, hands, and feet as well as behind the knees, but the condition can affect virtually any part of the body.
The eczema rash can be intensely and incessantly itchy, but when you scratch it, the itch only gets worse. The skin inflammation brought on by eczema makes your skin increasingly sensitive.
Scratching the dry, irritated skin triggers the release of histamine in the body, which makes your skin itch even more. This makes it harder for you to resist the urge to scratch, perpetuating a vicious itch cycle.
It is impossible to focus on anything else when you are constantly plagued by itchy skin. Eczema flare-ups not only hamper your ability to concentrate on daily tasks, but the itch can also make it impossible for you to fall asleep or stay asleep.
Thus, acute eczema can take a serious toll on your overall quality of life. Still, proper skin care, along with the right medication and lifestyle changes that aim to avoid potential triggers, can make the condition reasonably manageable.
A lot of people report an improvement in their condition as the years go by, while some may recover completely.
What are the various factors that contribute to the worsening of eczema?
Eczema is a skin condition that can occur anywhere on the body, leading to itchy, red patches of skin. It is not yet known what exactly causes eczema, but experts are starting to understand the science behind why some get eczema and others do not.
Researchers trace back the development of eczema to a combination of contributing factors that includes your genes. But since this condition affects everyone differently, these factors may trigger eczema in some, while not in others.
Common triggers for eczema include the following:
- Irritants may consist of everyday products or even natural substances that come into contact with your skin. Examples include soaps, detergents, and body washes.
- Increased stress and anxiety have both been linked with the onset of eczema.
- Extreme temperatures can aggravate eczema symptoms in different ways.
Hot, humid climate can lead to excessive sweating, which can irritate your skin and trigger an itch.
On the other hand, the cold winter air can strip away the moisture from your skin and render it drier than usual, leading to an eczema flare-up.
- Infection can aggravate your eczema. Eczema can get secondarily infected with bacteria or viruses in the environment, which may worsen your eczema.
- Allergens from the environment can cause an allergic reaction, triggering a bout of eczema. Common allergens include pollen, dust mites, mold.
- Hormones can trigger flare-ups. Some women will notice flare-ups of their eczema correlating with their menstrual cycle.
How bad can eczema get if scratching the eczema rashes continues?
There are several different types of eczema, but all of them share the characteristic feature of dry, itchy skin.
In most cases, the eczema-induced itch ranges from mild to moderate. However, some people have it worse and end up scratching their severely itchy skin until it bleeds.
Scratching only reinforces the itch, which makes you scratch even more. The constant friction against the skin only damages it further and can cause it to get thick, dark, and scarred.
If the protective barrier of the skin is ruptured due to the incessant scratching, it can provide easy entry to germs and pave the way for a skin infection.
Can severe anxiety cause eczema rashes?
Anxiety and stress have been identified as common triggers for eczema. Conversely, people with eczema flare-ups tend to experience increased stress and anxiety on account of their condition.
Thus, there seems to be a mutually reinforcing cycle between these triggers and the condition itself.
When you are in a stressful or anxious state, there is a spike in the production of stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol inside the body.
An excess of stress hormones in the body leads to the suppression of the immune system, which can induce an inflammatory response in the skin and consequently flare your eczema symptoms.
Thus, you should make a concerted effort to avoid known stressors and practice relaxation techniques to keep your mind at peace.
Stress management is not a standalone cure for eczema, but it can help alleviate some of its symptoms and reduce the frequency or severity of flare-ups.
Is there a proper dietary plan that one should follow when suffering from eczema?
Over the years, there has been a lot of research on potential dietary aids to relieve eczema, which include both foods and supplements. The studies have covered multiple prospects, from probiotics, prebiotics, and fish oil to zinc and some vitamins, but have failed to provide any conclusive results. (1)
While some findings were suggestive of a benefit, a review of all the studies did not yield sufficient evidence to establish the efficacy of any specific dietary aid or supplement for eczema relief. There is also no evidence to support that specific foods cause eczema symptoms unless you have a true allergy to that food. (2)
However, as multiple studies have indicated alterations in gut flora in patients with eczema, it is suggested to maintain a diet that promotes a healthy gut flora. (3)
A diet high in fiber, including fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, can help maintain healthy gut flora.
Overall, a healthy diet only helps maintain a healthy mind, body, and skin but not specifically target the inflammatory response that causes an eczema flare-up.
Does increasing water intake help in healing eczema?
Aiming to drink eight 8-oz glasses of water each day helps to maintain a healthy level of hydration to prevent further skin dryness and irritation.
However, increasing water intake above the recommended standard has not been shown to help heal eczema. Hence, it is best to keep your daily fluid intake within the recommended levels rather than going overboard.
Besides, there are other more credible ways to retain and enhance skin moisture, such as:
- Regular application of emollients
- Not exposing your skin to arid or dehydrating environments
- Keeping your skin protected from dehydrating or irritating substances
How do you treat dry and flaky skin caused by eczema?
Treatment cannot cure eczema, but it can control it. Immediately after a lukewarm bath or shower, pat your skin dry and apply a fragrance-free moisturizer from head to toe.
Keep in mind that thick creams and ointments are generally more effective than lotions or oils. Ideally, moisturize twice a day.
Will olive oil and aloe vera help in reducing eczema blemishes?
Well-hydrated skin is more capable of defending itself against external irritants. There are multiple natural oils that can help restore moisture in the skin and thereby improve its structural integrity.
But these oils are not equal on the therapeutic index, with some faring better than other for relieving eczema symptoms.
The hydrating and protective potential of a natural oil depends upon the ratio of oleic acid to linoleic acid. Linoleic acid is the star ingredient that is credited with the ability to moisturize, repair, and protect the topmost layer of skin while curbing skin irritation and inflammation. (4)
Olive oil appears to have little benefit when it comes to treating eczema, mostly due to its inherent composition that runs high on oleic acid while containing minimal amounts of linoleic acid. (4)
In fact, the topical application of olive oil can be counterproductive and can worsen your eczema symptoms by further damaging the skin’s protective barrier.
On the other hand, oils that contain high levels of linoleic acid and low levels of oleic acid, such as sunflower seed oil, may be more beneficial in preserving the epidermal barrier while supplementing moisture to the skin.
Other oils that may help relieve eczema symptoms when used topically include argan oil, avocado oil, coconut oil, jojoba oil, and rosehip oil. (5)
Aloe vera is recognized as one of the most skin-friendly natural ingredients there is and has been credited with significant anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and antifungal properties.
Aloe vera lives up to its reputation as a skin healer and is often employed in topical formulations. This hydrating salve not only relieves skin irritation but also helps repair the skin barrier and reduce the risk of infection. Thus, aloe vera helps improve eczema symptoms.
Is it advised to have facial steaming done to help clear eczema?
Steaming can help open up the pores of the skin and thereby improve product absorption. Thus, it is beneficial to steam the skin before applying any moisturizer or topical treatment for eczema.
However, this therapy only works for people with mildly dry skin and can be rather counterproductive for those suffering from extreme dryness.
Severe eczema tends to make your skin visibly red and irritated, and subjecting it to this kind of heat therapy will only make the condition worse.
During steaming, the heat penetrates the skin and increases blood circulation in the area by activating the peripheral blood vessels. The rush of blood makes the skin appear redder than before.
Can we use makeup to hide eczema blemishes?
Makeup can be used to help hide eczema blemishes but should be chosen and applied correctly.
Choosing the right products that will not irritate your skin further is important, as well as creating a good base before applying makeup.
When choosing makeup, avoid added fragrances, preservatives, and ingredients such as salicylic or glycolic acid that may further dry your skin.
Apply a moisturizing cream base before makeup application. A cream-based makeup product will also cover the blemishes better.
It is also recommended to apply makeup using clean fingers rather than with brushes as brushes have a higher likelihood of carrying bacteria, which can lead to infection.
Another tip is that green tints will cancel out the redness of eczema.
Do eczema symptoms worsen during the night?
People with eczema often experience a nighttime aggravation of their symptoms, which may be due to the following factors:
- There is a natural drop in the body’s core temperature at night on account of the daily sleep and wake cycle, which can make the itch worse.
- Most people moisturize their skin during the day but fail to do so at night. Because the lubricating effect of the emollient wears off by bedtime, the itch tends to resurface at night.
- Scratching the skin unwittingly during sleep can make the itch worse, which can lead to disturbed sleep.
- Sheets or pajamas made from certain fabrics may be irritating the skin.
Why does the number of eczema cases increase during winters?
People are more prone to eczema flare-ups during winters because the air becomes drier than usual. This is only made worse by the constant use of indoor heating systems.
In the cold season, the skin is unable to retain its natural moisture, which is further stripped away by the harsh dry air.
As the temperature drops outside, so does the humidity. The arid air sucks the moisture from the skin, making it increasingly dry and irritated. The indoor heating makes the atmosphere even drier, which adds to the skin irritation.
Both these factors work together to make it impossible for the skin to remain sufficiently hydrated on its own. As a result, your eczema symptoms worsen during winters.
Are there other tips for dealing with eczema?
Individuals with eczema are at a higher risk of experiencing depression, anxiety, and stress.
Because eczema has no cure, it is essential to learn how to take care of the skin. With correct treatment and proper skin care, much of the discomfort of eczema can be alleviated.
Keep your skin moisturized, avoid irritants, avoid scratching, and manage the symptoms with over-the-counter medications as needed. Consult a board-certified dermatologist to prescribe you something stronger if all else fails to provide relief.
Maintain a healthy diet, practice mindful meditation, follow a proper exercise routine, do your best to get enough sleep, and strengthen your social connections. All of these contribute to a healthy skin and body.