Eczema: Dermatology Nurse explains how to use emollients

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Dr Perry started off our discussion by talking about just how many people eczema impacts every year. He said: “Eczema is a very common skin condition that affects 10% to 20% percent of children and 1% to 3% percent of adults. About 60% of children with eczema will get it before age 1, and at least 80% will develop it before age 5.

“Most people will outgrow eczema during childhood, however it has been estimated that up to 15 million people in the UK could be living with eczema. Information shows that in 2015, GPs in England wrote about 27 million prescriptions for the topical agents used in the treatment of atopic dermatitis (eczema).”

Eczema then is a major contributor to GP prescriptions, and not just because of its prevalence. The disease in question can come in a range of types and not all medicines work for all people.

Despite this, many find that their eczema improves during the summer months, with the opposite occurring as the mercury begins to drop.

Dr Perry agreed, adding: “Many individuals suffering with eczema and psoriasis find the winter months are when their skin tends to flare up the most.

“It can be hard to handle, especially in children with many over the counter products having little or no effect. The combination of dry air, central heating, decreased sunlight exposure, and colder temperatures can all contribute to eczema flare ups.”

Concerning advice for managing the condition, he said: “My advice is to apply moisturiser liberally and use frequently throughout the day. A home humidifier may help alleviate some of the symptoms.

“Wear soft layers to avoid irritating the skin and keep hydrated by drinking plenty of water. Choose soothing baths over hot showers as long showers in hot water remove moisture from your skin, better to shower in warm water just long enough to soap up and rinse off. Soaking in Epsom salts, or dead Sea salts in a warm bath for around 15 minutes to slough off scales, soothe itching, and unwind. Apply moisturizing cream or lotion right after to lock the water in.”

Can I still exercise during the winter?

Yes, Dr Perry added that a person with eczema should: “Try and exercise when the weather is ok to get some vitamin D. Also getting coughs and colds often makes conditions such as eczema and psoriasis worse due to the stress if puts on the body so try and avoid where possible.”

It’s not just physiological stress that can have an impact on eczema, psychological stress can act as a trigger for the condition.

Why is eczema worse in the winter?

“Eczema is worse in winter as cold weather tends to make the skin drier and more reactive to the inflammatory process,” says Dr Perry.

He added: “Eczema suffers tend to find their flare-ups get worse in the winter as our bodies are more stressed in winter cold conditions and as psoriasis and eczema is helped by sunlight this has an impact on the skin.”

Overall, it can be relatively easy to manage the symptoms of the condition added Perry: “The best options are to increase the moisturiser frequency of application and maybe even go for a thicker moisturiser such as Aveeno or Oilatum.

“Unfortunately, central heating plays havoc with those suffering from eczema and psoriasis because It has a dehydrating effect on the skin so inflammatory dry skin conditions can be exacerbated by it.”

What are the main symptoms of eczema?

The main symptoms of eczema are that they cause areas of the skin to become itchy, dry, cracked, and sore.

The NHS say: “There are usually periods where the symptoms improve, followed by periods where they get worse (flare-ups). Flare-ups may occur as often as 2 or 3 times a month.”

Can eczema get worse?

Yes, like other conditions the condition can get worse. Eczema can sometimes become infected. Signs of an infection include:
• The eczema getting a lot worse
• Fluid oozing from the skin
• A yellow crust on the skin surface or small yellowish-white spots appearing in the eczema
• The skin becoming swollen and sore
• Feeling hot and shivery and generally feeling unwell.

What causes eczema?

Eczema can be caused by a range of factors including:

• Irritants such as some soaps and detergents
• Environmental factors
• Food allergies
• Certain materials worn next to the skin
• Hormonal changes
• Skin infections.

In some cases, eczema can also be caused by traumatic events which cause a significant release of stress and trigger the condition like staying physically active and quitting smoking can also help.

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