Eczema (also known as atopic dermatitis) is common in children but a proportion of individuals continue to have problems through into adulthood. It is important to realise that in the majority of individuals, the underlying cause for eczema is probably a hereditary issue leading to dryness of the skin. Eczema can be a miserable condition that can have a high impact on quality of life, however there are many ways to help the condition. Here are my top tips for eczema sufferers out there:
Moisturise, moisturise, moisturise: It is important to regularly apply moisturising creams and ointments (emollients) When eczema persists or continues to flare despite these measures, application of anti-inflammatory steroid base creams or ointments is often necessary, sometimes on a regular basis which can be prescribed by a medical practitioner.
Keep clean, but not too clean: Avoid excessive bathing and showering in hot water, particularly using conventional soaps and shower gels since these can have a dehydrating effect on skin making the eczema worse.
Allergy Testing: Many eczema sufferers also undergo allergy testing and sensitisation to house dust mites, pets, pollens and moulds is commonplace. There are a number of measures which can be put in place around the home to reduce house dust mite levels although in practice, reducing allergen levels sufficiently to have an impact on eczema symptoms is often tricky. A proportion of individuals also have a sensitisation to foods and may not even be aware of this. In general this is less common in adults than children. Sensitisation to a food may be suspected from the history given by a patient or as a result of allergy testing. If this is the case, a trial period of an elimination diet is helpful in assessing whether this is contributing to the skin symptoms.
Use dermatologically approved products: Many eczema sufferers use oat-based moisturising creams however it is common to become sensitised to these. Although it may be tempting to use such products which appear natural, I recommend against this in patients who have eczema. In patients with more severe symptoms, or where the eczema becomes problematic later in life, a thorough dermatological evaluation is required to exclude other causes. A particular type of allergy test, known as a patch test, may also be needed to evaluate if a ‘contact allergy’ have developed to a chemical or product which is coming into contact with the skin.
Don’t give up: Sometimes emollients and steroid creams cannot control symptoms and additional measures are required. These may include tablet or injection treatments to dampen the immune system and for some individuals phototherapy (‘light treatment’) may be an option. There are many treatments for eczema and it is also an exciting time in the field of eczema research where a number of new drug treatments have been tested in clinical trials and show great promise for the future.
Finally, if your current treatment plan isn’t working for you, I always advise to go back to your doctor for review.