Tips for Treating Eczema in the Winter

Between the cold temperatures and dry air from indoor heating, the winter can cause your skin to be itchy, irritated, and flaky.  For those with eczema, the winter can be a particularly difficult time of year as their skin already tends to have patches that are reddened, cracked, and very dry.  With a few changes to your skin care routine, it is possible to gain some relief from winter flare-ups.

Also known as atopic dermatitis or atopic eczema, this condition can occur anywhere on the body, but it is most commonly found on flexors such as the backs of the knees and arm bends.  The affected skin is dry, itchy, and can become raw if scratched.  In addition to being severely dry, the areas can become red and inflamed, often having small, raised bumps on the surface.  Sometimes these areas develop brownish-gray patches as well.

Scratching eczema patches can lead to infection, particularly when the affected areas are near the eyes.  In particular, it can be challenging to prevent young children and babies from hurting themselves by scratching their face since the condition causes a great deal of discomfort.  Most children who have eczema begin experiencing symptoms within a few months of being born, and with rare exception, almost always before the age of 5.  Treatment is important to provide relief and reduce the urge to scratch the affected areas.

Mild to moderate cases of eczema can be treated mainly through lifestyle changes and modifications to skin care routines.  These include using gentle cleansers on the skin that won’t cause further irritation.  In the winter, this is particularly important since stripping the skin of its natural moisture can make skin even more susceptible to the effects of cold, dry air.  Maintaining proper moisture levels is also key as it is difficult for skin to self-repair once its protective barrier cracks.  Keep showers warm instead of hot, and apply moisturizer right after bathing.

For more severe eczema, physicians may use medications to treat the condition.  These include over the counter hydrocortisone, prescription steroid cream, corticosteroids, and immunosuppressants.  Since they are associated with more dangerous side effects, immunosuppressants generally are only used for short-term treatment and not in young children.  Other treatments may include prescription strength moisturizers and light therapy, as some people with severe forms of the condition have benefitted from the use of ultraviolet light on affected areas.

Whether eczema is mild or more severe, an additional tip is to use a humidifier to combat the dry air caused by indoor heating.  Don’t make the mistake of creating excessive humidity, however.  A level of 45 to 55 percent is ideal, as higher levels can lead to mold or increased dust mites.

Experts also recommend reducing stress to minimize the risk of an eczema flare-up. When the body experiences stress, skin inflammation increases, which can exacerbate the condition. Use the cozy, winter months as a time to relax, get enough sleep, and take care of your mind and body.

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