Eczema treatment: available options

Eczema is a skin condition that leaves the skin feeling dry, red and itchy. In severe cases, or during a flare up, the skin can become very inflamed, broken or cracked; it may ooze and be difficult to keep dry, making the skin prone to infection.

Around one in five children in the UK need regular eczema treatment from when they are very young. Many grow out of the condition during their teenage years; only one in twelve UK adults still suffer from regular bouts. Although eczema is not life-threatening, it can cause great distress, particularly if it occurs on skin that is very visible, such as on the face and hands. Eczema treatment takes many forms; some treatments are aimed at prevention while others attempt to deal with flare-ups. If you or your child has eczema, it is worth trying a range of eczema treatments to minimise its impact on your life.

This article on eczema treatment is written by Kathryn Senior, a freelance journalist who writes health, medical, biological, and pharmaceutical articles for national and international journals, newsletters and web sites.

Treatment at home

Although eczema can be something you are born with, there are still a wide range of environmental factors that can make the condition worse, including:

  • Allergens – such as pet hair, pollen, artificial fibres and dust mites
  • Foods – such as dairy products, eggs, nuts and wheat
  • Stress – which becomes a loop as the eczema causes further stress
  • Temperature – sweating can irritate eczema symptoms
  • Soaps – most common soaps dry the skin making the condition worse

The first step in eczema treatment is to try to identify and eliminate the factors in your environment that affect your eczema. Small changes to your diet, clothing and lifestyle can make a big difference to the severity of your eczema symptoms.

Emollient Treatment

Emollient eczema treatments work in two ways, firstly by moisturising the skin to prevent dryness and cracking, and secondly by cooling and soothing the skin, reducing itching and irritation. These can be applied in several ways:

  • Emollient eczema treatment cream is used for inflamed and itchy areas as it is the most soothing
  • Emollient eczema treatment ointment is used for dry or scaly areas as it is the best at moisture retention
  • Emollient eczema treatment lotion is used for hairy areas of skin as it is non-greasy and easy to apply without causing further irritation

Treatments should be applied liberally after bathing to lock moisture into the skin, and re-applied regularly through the day as needed. Emollient bath oils and emollient alternatives to soap are also available.

There are many different emollients available and it may take a little trial and error, with the help of your GP and pharmacist, to find the right one for you. If you use an emollient for a prolonged period, you could find that it loses its effect as your body becomes used to it. In this case, you will need to switch to a new emollient eczema treatment to maintain the beneficial effects.

Steroid eczema treatment

Steroid eczema treatments are used where the skin has become inflamed and sore. They work by reducing the inflammation and help the skin to heal. However, unlike emollients, steroids should be used sparingly and for as short a period as possible. That said, you should always use them if prescribed by your GP or dermatologist. Not using steroids, out of fear of the side effects, may result in you needing even stronger steroid eczema treatments as your condition worsens.

Antihistamine treatment

Anti-histamines can be used as an eczema treatment to ease the itching and reduce the effects of localised environmental factors that cause a flare-up. There are two kinds of anti-histamine for eczema; those that cause drowsiness and those that don’t. Clearly the non-drowsy variety is preferred for daytime use, but sedative anti-histamines have the advantage of helping you to sleep when your itching is keeping you awake. Sedative anti-histamine eczema treatments are particularly effective in children.

Treatment for infections

When the skin becomes swollen and cracked, it can sometimes become infected and you will need to take an antibiotic as part of your eczema treatment. This is usually taken as a tablet such as flucloxacillin or erythromycin. Once the infection has cleared up, it is important to throw away all your regular eczema treatments, such as emollient creams, and replace them with fresh supplies; otherwise there is a high risk of re-infection.

Treating severe cases

In very severe cases, where the condition does not respond to standard eczema treatments, you may be referred to a dermatologist who will be able to try more specialised therapies:

  • Alitretinoin – a specialist retinoid medication used for severe eczema of the hands
  • Phototherapy – an eczema treatment involving exposure to ultraviolet light
  • Calcineurin inhibitors – powerful anti-inflammatories
  • Bandaging – the application of eczema treatment directly to the skin via impregnated, medicated bandages.

Living with eczema

If you have eczema one of the worst things to do is ignore it. Neglecting regular eczema treatments, failing to use emollients on the skin and not taking care to avoid dietary and lifestyle triggers can result in a skin condition that is much worse than it needs to be. Eczema treatments are readily available; using them as your doctor recommends really will help.

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Eczema treatment: available options
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