Why Is My Skin So Itchy? It Could Be Eczema.
| Posted On Feb 17, 2015 | By: Glen Blair, NP
Welcome to what I call eczema season, the time of year when the air is colder and therefore holds less humidity. Additionally, the heat is turned up, causing the air in your home or office to be much drier. Both of these factors play a large role in the development of what some refer to as “winter itch.” Your skin gets depleted of its much needed moisture resulting in dry, flaking and itchy skin.
What is Eczema?
Eczema is an itchy, inflamed, red rash that can occur anywhere on the body and is the result of your body’s inability to maintain an effective moisture barrier, a thin layer of oil that seals the skin and protects the body. Eczema can occur at any time during your lifespan. In children, eczema usually develops in the creases of the elbows, behind the knees and on the cheeks and eyelids. Adults, more typically, are affected on the arms, legs, back or chest. There may be little or no rash until you start scratching which is why eczema is sometimes called “the itch that rashes.” When the rash is present, it is often reddened, coarse, dry, flaking and sometimes with little red bumps which correspond to eczema around the hair follicles. Scratching feeds the eczema and makes it worse.
Treatment Options for Eczema
Although the exact cause of eczema is unknown, it is thought to be a result of environmental and hereditary factors. A child is more likely to develop eczema if a parent has had it. Effective treatment of eczema involves implementing skin hygiene measures that preserve the moisture barrier function of the skin, use of moisturizers, and sometimes the use of topical medicines to control the itch.
Things to Consider:
- Do you shower more than once a day, use very hot water, or stay in the shower for more than 10 minutes? All of these practices damage the moisture barrier of the skin and contribute to dryness and itching; fewer showers, cooler showers and shorter showers will help reduce flare-ups of eczema.
- You should also get in the habit of applying a moisturizer to your skin at least once or more a day, depending on the severity of your symptoms. Keep some lotion in your bathroom and apply to your skin immediately after the shower, keeping just a small amount of water on your skin as you apply the lotion. Keep another bottle at your bedside so that you can reapply as you climb into bed at the end of the day. There are many skin moisturizers available over the counter; choose one that has no perfumes or dyes and feels good against your skin. Some options are petrolatum, Eucerin®, Aveeno® Eczema Care, CeraVe®, ammonium lactate lotion for very flakey skin, and VanicreamTM for those with very sensitive skin.
- For very severe eczema, you may try taking a bleach-bath, which involved pouring 1/2 cup of liquid chlorine bleach into a full bath and soaking for at least 5-10 minutes. This can be wonderfully refreshing for people who are going crazy with itch.
- If the itching is keeping you awake, some people find that taking an antihistamine, like diphenhydramine (Benadryl®), at bedtime can help them to sleep through the itch. Be sure to read the instructions carefully as some antihistamines may cause drowsiness during the day and have little direct effect on reducing the itch of eczema.
- Avoid using perfumed lotions, soaps, shampoos and washing detergent that can irritate your skin. Also avoid anti-bacterial and deodorant products as these can dry the skin and make your symptoms worse.
- Stress is known to aggravate skin conditions like eczema, so working on stress-relief can also help alleviate the symptoms.
- In the winter, a humidifier can add moisture to the air and reduce water loss from your skin. The units must be carefully maintained to prevent overgrowth of molds which can cause breathing problems in susceptible individuals.
- If you’re looking for a cheaper alternative to lotions, try coconut oil as a moisturizer. The oil can be put directly on the affected skin, and many eczema sufferers find it soothing.
- Winter isn’t the only time eczema can flare up. In the summertime, eczema is often triggered by sweat. When exercising, wear proper sports clothing designed to keep your skin cool and dry.
If these at-home skin hygiene treatments are not enough to make your symptoms better, schedule an appointment to see your primary care provider. Your doctor may be able to prescribe medication for your eczema or refer you to a dermatologist for further evaluation.