Eczema can be irritating, painful and discomforting for those who suffer from this category of skin conditions. Fortunately, there are a variety of treatments available to help quell the symptoms of eczema and prevent future flare-ups.

What is eczema?

Eczema isn’t a singular condition. It is used to classify a larger group of conditions that result in redness, dryness, itchiness, inflammation and patchiness of the skin. Eczema can occur in any place on the body. The affected zones of skin often differ from person to person. Eczema often manifests in locations such as the cheeks, the insides of the elbows and the backs of the knees. It’s most common for children to be diagnosed with eczema and be actively symptomatic. It’s not uncommon for children to “outgrow” the condition as they age. However, this is not always the case, and adults can also be affected.

The symptoms of eczema can range from mild or severe, though most cases require treatment to manage. When someone is undergoing an eczema flare-up, they’ll experience redness, itchiness, and discomfort in patches on their skin. Mild cases are often less irritating or occur in fewer places on the body. More severe cases will feature more spots of rashed skin and can be extremely painful or discomforting for the sufferer. Fortunately, treatment is available to help those with the condition help manage their symptoms, avoid infections and prevent flares. Successful treatment often depends on the triggers for an individual’s flare-ups (stress, allergens, dry skin, weather changes, etc.) and can follow various different approaches.

The pharmaceutical approach

For those whose flare-ups require medication, there are several different pharmaceutical approaches to treating eczema. One of the most popular is a topical prescription or an over-the-counter cream. Different types of creams and ointments all serve different purposes with their various ingredients. Corticosteroid creams are full of hydrocortisone steroids that help to reduce inflammation, lessening itchiness, rating, and discomfort in the process. For those who are looking for similar relief without steroids, doctors may prescribe nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). These creams are not always effective for those with severe eczema, yet they can reduce rashing and discomfort of the skin for those with moderate cases.

In addition to ointments for skin relief, there are also specific medications that can be rubbed directly into the skin rather than ingested. Although there can be a greater risk of side-effects in comparison to other topical creams, these can be effective for individuals suffering from more severe forms of eczema. Steroid pills/shots and immunosuppressants can also be effective when severe eczema doesn’t respond to other treatments. They can help reduce inflammation during a severe swell-up and ensure that an overactive immune system doesn’t contribute to a flare-up. However, an influx of side-effects means that these medications should only be used for a short period of time to avoid long-term damage to the skin, bones and kidneys.

Utilizing UV light treatment

For severe cases of eczema, UV light treatment and/or PUVA therapy may be recommended. UV light treatment exposes eczema-afflicted skin to UVN, UVA1 and/or UV phototherapy light to treat the issue on and below the surface of the skin. It boosts the production of vitamin D, supports disease-fighting bacteria and helps reduce inflammation of the skin. For people with severe eczema, this type of treatment can be extremely helpful, with over 70 percent of those who undergo this therapy reporting positive results. Many enter a state of remission.

How does UV light treatment work? During a UV light session, patients will strip down to their underwear and put on protective goggles, stand in a UV light chamber and receive exposure for several seconds/minutes (depending on severity and location of the flare-up). Although this treatment doesn’t have immediate results, patients who maintain frequent visits (twice-weekly or more) often report a clearing of symptoms within a month or two. Still, UV therapy can put patients at risk of skin cancer, temporary burns and premature aging of the skin. The risks should be thoroughly discussed with a doctor before the treatment proceeds.

Self-care to reduce/prevent flare-ups

One of the most necessary forms of self-care that can help reduce symptoms and prevent future flare-ups is mindful bathing. Skin needs moisture and a lack of moisture can contribute to flare-ups, as well as the continuation of dryness and inflammation. The National Eczema Association recommends bathing or showering in warm water, as hot water can dry out the skin. Warm baths that include oatmeal, vinegar and other household ingredients can be helpful for some, but discussing this option with a doctor or dermatologist first is recommended.

Another essential form of at-home treatment is moisturizing, especially post-bathing. Factors such as cold weather and low humidity can lead to inflammation in those with eczema. Lotions and moisturizers can help lessen irritation, lock out allergens and prevent flare-ups on the skin. Lastly, if one of a patient’s triggers is stress and they experience frequent flare-ups, they should consider meeting with a therapist or psychiatrist. Psychologists/psychiatrists can discuss possible anxiety treatments that may help manage both everyday stress and recurring eczema flare-ups.