Spotlight on Eczema Awareness Month: How to make it through winter with atopic dermatitis
Autumn is my favorite season. The trees are turning, the air smells of crisp, dry leaves, and the nostalgia of the holiday season looms. Yet, as someone who has suffered from eczema in the past, I know that the thought of winter approaching can literally make my skin crawl. As the temperature falls, we crank up the heat in our homes, which for many of us means forced air. This, along with the natural drop in humidity outdoors, wreaks havoc on dry, eczema-prone skin.
Atopic dermatitis (commonly referred to as “eczema”) is a condition that affects people of all ages. In babies, it often appears as red, rough patches on the cheeks, scalp, ankles and wrists. Children may have it on their neck, behind their knees, and in the creases of the elbows. Adults often experience it on their hands. People who suffer from seasonal allergies or asthma are also more likely to have eczema. If you or a family member have eczema, there are steps you can take to minimize flares. Follow these guidelines to get through winter without a scratch (pun intended):
- Humidify the air in your home with a cool-mist humidifier.
- Take lukewarm showers or baths as hot water can strip away the skin’s protective oils. Soaking in a bath will hydrate the skin better than a shower. For severe eczema, try adding ½-cup of white vinegar to the bath to reduce bacteria on the skin.
- Use a fragrance-free bar soap in underarms and groin-area only. The arms and legs don’t produce the type of sweat glands that harbor bacteria and create odor. Good choices are Dove for Sensitive Skin, Vanicream Bar or Aveeno Moisturizing Bar.
- Seal in moisture within one to two minutes of bathing by applying plain petroleum jelly or mineral oil to the entire body. If these feel too greasy, use a fragrance-free cream for eczema-prone skin. Many creams also contain a beneficial compound called ceramide, a protectant naturally produced by the skin. Make sure to apply the moisturizer immediately; if you wait too long, the water evaporates and leaves skin parched.
- For adults and children over age two with active eczema, try over-the-counter hydrocortisone ointment (rather than cream) according to the package instructions. If the rash doesn’t improve after a week of treatment, see your doctor or a dermatologist.
- For hand eczema, limit hand washing to the palms only, when practical. Wash hands with a gentle, soap-free cleanser such as Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser or CeraVe Hydrating Cleanser. Avoid hand sanitizers that often contain irritating fragrance and alcohol. After washing hands, apply plain petroleum jelly or a hand cream such as Neutrogena Norwegian Formula.
Remember, your skin is a living organ! Treat it gently and be mindful of what you apply to it. If you aren’t able to manage your eczema alone, don’t worry. There are numerous prescription moisturizers and medications available to treat severe eczema. Talk with your doctor or schedule an appointment with a dermatologist to discuss the best treatment for you or your child.