As October wound to a close, so, too, did national Eczema Awareness Month. But eczema sufferers can deal with their problem all year long—facing the physical discomfort of itchy, red skin, as well as negative impacts to their emotional wellbeing and mental health. Dr. Naomi Brooks at Boise Dermatology routinely works with patients who are seeking a solution to a problem that affects more than 30 million Americans.
Despite eczema’s widespread presence, many people don’t understand the condition. In fact, eczema is not a single condition at all, but is something of a collective term for eight different types of skin rashes that flare up in certain people from time to time—likely due to a mix of environment stimulus and genetic factors.
These flare-ups can appear on different parts of the body and have varying degrees of symptoms, though all of them involve itchy, red patches. Some types cause peeling, blistering, or oozing.
The most common form of eczema is atopic dermatitis, which is a chronic inflammation caused by an overactive immune system. Thought to be triggered by an allergic reaction—and closely tied to hereditary hay fever and asthma—atopic dermatitis can cause everything from dry, flaky, scaly skin to cracking behind the ears and crusty sores.
This form of eczema most often manifests in children, sometimes within a baby’s first six months.
Another type of dermatitis in the eczema family, contact dermatitis, is recognized as a rash appearing after the skin touches a certain material or substance. Many elements that trigger this eczema flare-up are known irritants—such as bleach or solvents—but it can also be caused by certain textiles, soaps, and foods.
Other forms of eczema include dyshidrotic eczema, which causes small blisters on the extremities and impacts women and double the rates of men; the common hand eczema, which is limited to that part of the body; neurodematitis, which creates thick, scaly patches on the skin; nummular dermatitis, which raises coin-sized bumps; seborrheic dermatitis, which produces flakes of dandruff on the scalp and swelling and flaking elsewhere oil is produced on the body; and stasis dermatitis, related to poor blood circulation and appearing as redness as fluid oozes into the skin from veins.
Handling eczema involves two strategies: managing the symptoms and identifying possible triggers.
Preventing a flare-up may not be possible, but the chance of irritation can be mitigated by avoiding known or suspected irritants, whether certain laundry detergents, tobacco smoke, or wool clothing. Dry skin is prone to developing a rash, so it’s important to keep the skin moist and hydrated—especially in cold weather. Stress and sickness can also be triggers, so staying in good physical and mental health can be helpful.
Mental health is a point of particular note, since the National Eczema Society used 2017’s Eczema Awareness Month to focus on the emotional and psychological toll of the skin condition. The group reported that people dealing with eczema are at an increased risk for depression, anxiety, and stress. The society also recommended meditation, regular exercise, good sleep habits, and healthy social interaction as ways to help maintain good mental health. Less stress can potentially reduce the chance of future flare-ups—and comes with other health benefits, too.
For managing flare-ups themselves, Dr. Brooks recommends a range of treatments, including emollients, topical steroids or non-steroidal ointments, wet wraps, bleach baths, and antibiotics or other medications. The specific treatment suggested will depend on the patient’s unique form of eczema and medical history.
To learn more about eczema and dealing with flare-ups, contact board-certified dermatologist Dr. Naomi Brooks at Boise Dermatology by calling 208.888.0660 or sending a message online.