How to treat eczema

October 9, 2015

Could itchy skin be worse than a life-threatening health condition like diabetes or high blood pressure? For some people, it may be. Read on to find out more about the negative effects of skin conditions.

How to treat eczema

1. Did you know?

When scientists asked 92 adults with severe eczema about the quality of their daily lives, they reported that having one of those serious medical problems might be easier than dealing with itchy, bumpy, scaly skin all the time.

Half said they would trade up to two hours a day of their lives for normal skin, and 74 vowed they'd spend over $1,000 for a cure. But eczema eruptions don't have to rule your life. Here are some strategies that you can look into with your doctor.

2. Get tested for allergies

Pet dander, pollen and dust mites can all trigger eczema flare-ups. In fact, one Scandinavian study of 45 people with eczema found that everyone with severe skin problems was allergic to at least one of these airborne troublemakers. But before you give the cat away, get an allergy test. It makes sense to know who (or what) the enemy is before you launch an all-out attack.

Experts have conflicting opinions about the effectiveness of strategies for avoiding allergens at home (such as removing carpets, keeping pets out of the bedroom and covering mattresses and pillows with allergen-proof covers). While some recommend it, studies tend to show that these steps often don't reduce eczema flare-ups, simply because it's tough to keep the air completely allergen free.

3. Keep a steroid cream handy

Steroid creams, ointments, gels and lotions can't cure eczema, but they're the best choice for controlling it. The catch is that overuse (more than four continuous weeks) can lead to thinning of the skin, reduced bone density in adults and growth problems in kids — but these side effects are rare. In fact, some researchers say fear of steroid creams can have worse side effects than the creams themselves.

In one British study of 200 people with eczema, 73 percent admitted to being worried about using a steroid cream and 24 percent admitted to skimping on or skipping the treatment as a result. But studies show that smart use brings relief, usually without problems.

4. Try an immunomodulator cream for severe eczema

If moisturizers and steroid creams don't control outbreaks, an immunomodulator cream could help. These medications could reduce eczema symptoms by 50 percent or more, say British researchers who reviewed 31 well-designed studies.

Talk to your doctor about the "black box" cautions on these drugs, which warn of increased risk of skin cancer and lymphoma. Major medical organizations say that the evidence for a connection is extremely weak and that these well-intentioned warnings may keep people from getting the eczema relief they need.

5. Look into ultraviolet treatment

Stubborn, severe eczema that isn't healed by creams or even steroid pills may respond to exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light emitted from a doctor's sunlamp. In one study of 73 people with moderate to severe eczema, those who got twice-weekly "narrow-band UVB" treatments with sunlamps for 12 weeks saw a 28 percent reduction in itching, oozing and crusting of their skin rashes.

In contrast, those who were exposed to regular sunlight saw a 1.3 percent improvement. See a dermatologist about UV therapy — and don't go to a tanning salon unless the doctor recommends it; the potential benefit has to be balanced against the risk of skin cancer.

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