Are you noticing one or more red, itchy and oozing skin patches on your chin, cheeks, inner elbows, chest or behind your knees that becomes more irritated when you scratch? If so, chances are good, you have eczema.
While there are other signs of eczema, like an itching weeping scalp, the above are the most common symptoms eczema patients have. Your dermatologist of primary care physician will discuss your eczema symptoms, family history and any products in your home or that you use on your skin to come up with a diagnosis and determine treatment.
Eczema affects over 10 percent (31 million) individuals in the United States, according to the National Eczema Association (NEA), a non-profit organization missioned to improve the health and quality of life for children and adults living with eczema through support, education and research.
Doctors don’t know the exact cause of eczema. However, they believe it’s associated with certain irritants, allergens and environmental factors.
What are the Beginning Stages of Eczema?
Eczema comes in three stages:
Each stage of eczema has a different type of treatment. The beginning stage is the “acute stage.”
Typically, at the beginning stages of eczema, your affected skin area is itchy. For most individuals, this itchiness is either mild or moderate.
In some instances, however, it can be far worse, and your skin can become inflamed. In some cases, this itch can become so bad, you’ll scratch it to the point of bleeding, which will worsen the condition. This is known as the “itch-scratch cycle.”
Some symptoms to look for in the beginning stages of eczema include:
Open weeping sores
Extremely bad itching
Sensitive, dry skin
Inflamed, red skin
Dark colored skin patches
Areas of swelling
Crusting or oozing
Scaly, rough or leathery skin patches
You could experience all or only a few of these symptoms.
What Does Eczema Look Like When Healing?
Each person will experience eczema symptoms differently and heal in their own timeline. Your eczema may not look the same as it does on your child or another adult. It could even appear on your body in different areas at different times.
Old eczema cuts, wounds and infected lesions are the first to heal, usually. Therefore, if you have an outbreak of eczema on your toes that spread up to your ankles, you’ll see that the lesions on your toes will heal before those on your ankles.
Before your skin begins to heal, the lymph fluids (skin excretion wetness) decreases and then completely stops first. Then during the final healing stages, your skin will become itchier and much drier.
But, your skin won’t ooze lymph fluids or feel damp anymore when you scratch. No matter how hard you scratch, your skin won’t break either. You may continue shedding skin, but not as much as before.
The new skin you grow will be pink in color, soft and thin looking. It will be tougher than it was before. While you may notice some discoloration, in time this will normalize. You may notice white flaky stuff on your new skin, but that too will go away. You’ll itch less and may start sleeping normal once again.
Your affected skin won’t be hot to the touch anymore. When your eczema is full-blown, you may feel heat radiating from under your skin. However, as you heal, the skin temperature of the affected skin feels the same as other areas of skin. Water from showering won’t sting or hurt your skin any longer.
What are the Ways to Cure Eczema?
Again, treatments will depend on the stages of your eczema. Some strategies to treat eczema may include:
Over-the-Counter Eczema Products
OTC treatments are medications or products you buy without a prescription. For treat mild eczema, many physicians recommend OTC hydrocortisone as the first-line treatment.
Some OTC eczema treatments help to moisturize your skin, while others help ease your eczema symptoms such as:
You’ll also find some that help clean your skin to prevent infection.
Prescription Topicals for Eczema
Your doctor may prescribe you topical medications like:
Skin barrier creams
Topical calcineurin inhibitors (TCIs)
You apply these medications to your affected skin areas to ease rash, redness, itching and dryness.
Systemic Medications for Eczema
While physicians don’t know exactly what causes eczema, they do know it causes your immune system to go haywire and lead to skin inflammation. It’s this inflammation that causes redness and itchiness. Therefore, your doctor may prescribe you a systemic medicine to stop the overreaction of your immune system, and works throughout your body. Systemic medications for eczema include azathioprine, ciclosporin, corticosteroids methotrexate, and retinoids.
Phototherapy for Eczema
The doctor uses a special machine in phototherapy to deliver narrowband ultraviolet B (UVB) light on your skin, reducing inflammation and itching. Phototherapy also increases bacteria-fighting systems and vitamin D production in your skin.
Other Eczema Treatment Options
There are other therapies your doctor may use such as:
Your dermatologist may recommend a bath with a little vinegar, oatmeal, salt or baking soda to help calm certain symptoms. They may also recommend moisturizing since eczema can flare and become irritated through different products and environmental factors like low humidity, wind, harsh soaps and cold temperatures.
Many individuals with eczema can manage their symptoms with ointments and creams alone. Sometimes, these are recommended first since certain oral medications have their own side effects, like increased behavioral or mood changes, high blood pressure or an increased infection vulnerability.
When on oral medications, your doctor will want to monitor you closely and regularly because of these side effects. Follow all instructions your doctor gives you to ensure successful healing of your eczema.