What is Eczema?
Eczema, also known as dermatitis, is inflammation in the skin. Eczema (also known as dermatitis or winter itch) is an inflammatory skin disorder that can be associated with severe itch. It can affect many parts of the body, but commonly is located on the arms, legs, eyelids, or hands. It is a disorder that many people “grow out of” but can wax and wane for years.
What causes Eczema?
Although most patients have a genetic background that predisposes them to eczema, there are certain environmental triggers that can make it worse. The winter brings with it dry air which can dry the skin and worsen eczema. Some people develop eczema after coming in contact with certain allergens – commonly poison ivy, nickel in metals, preservatives, and fragrances. Also, scratching can make eczema worse. Most dermatologists describe it as the the “itch – scratch cycle” which can lead to a downward spiral because scratching the rash actually makes the itch worse.
Avoiding the triggers above (dry skin, known allergens, and itching) can help prevent eczema, but we also have treatments to alleviate the disorder. The most important first step in treatment is to understand that dry skin worsens eczema. People should avoid very hot showers, use a humidifier in the winter, and liberally use moisturizing creams and ointments.
How can I treat Eczema?
The most common medication used by dermatologists is topical corticosteroids (not the steroids made famous by body builders and baseball players). These come in many different strengths and formulations, from easy to apply lotions to more moisturizing creams and ointments. The strongest steroids are not safe for certain areas such as the face, armpits, and groin, and there are alternative medicines that are safe for these areas. Sometimes the differences between the medication strengths and formulations can make all the difference in improving eczema rapidly and safely. One of the newer products, Avene Xeracalm, is an emollient lotion that works specifically to soothe dry, itchy skin. Many patients have found relief using this in combination with Avene Thermal Spring Water, developed specifically for sensitive skin with a variety of inflamed conditions.