Controlling Eczema Flare Ups: A Practical Guide

Eczema is a chronic skin condition characterized by itchy, inflamed, and irritated skin. Many people with eczema experience periodic flare ups, where symptoms suddenly worsen. Eczema flares can be frustrating and uncomfortable to deal with. In this article, we provide practical tips for controlling and minimizing eczema flare ups.

What Triggers Eczema Flares?

Before learning how to control flares, it’s helpful to understand what causes them in the first place. Potential eczema flare triggers include:

  • Irritants – Harsh soaps, detergents, chemicals, rough fabrics, cigarette smoke, and air pollutants can irritate the skin and provoke flares.
  • Allergens – Allergic reactions to things like pollen, pet dander, mold, and dust mites can trigger flares. Food allergies may also play a role for some people.
  • Stress – High stress levels may worsen eczema. Stress causes inflammation in the body, which can aggravate skin.
  • Dryness – When skin becomes extremely dry and dehydrated, it gets itchy and is more prone to flares. The winter months tend to be worse for many with eczema due to drier air.
  • Infections – Bacterial, viral, and fungal skin infections can all cause increases in itch, redness, and inflammation.

Lifestyle Tips to Prevent Flares

Making certain lifestyle adjustments can go a long way towards preventing eczema flares. Try these tips:

  • Moisturize skin twice daily, and always after bathing or washing hands. Choose thicker ointments or creams rather than lotions.
  • Limit baths to no more than 10 minutes in lukewarm water. Hot water dries skin. Avoid harsh soaps.
  • Apply moisturizer to damp skin after bathing to lock in moisture.
  • Use humidifiers during dry winter months to add moisture back into the air.
  • Wear soft, breathable fabrics like cotton next to sensitive skin. Avoid irritating wool, polyester, and scratchy materials.
  • Reduce exposure to chemical cleaners, soaps, and detergents by wearing gloves during housework and laundering.
  • Keep fingernails short to minimize skin damage from scratching itchy skin.
  • Manage stress with exercise, meditation, therapy, support groups, or other tactics.

Handling Acute Eczema Flare Ups

Even with good skincare habits, flares still often occur. When a flare strikes, take these steps:

  • Identify and avoid triggers – As best you can, stay away from irritants and allergens provoking the flare.
  • Anti-itch creams – Apply calming creams with colloidal oatmeal, menthol, or pramoxine to itchy skin for relief. Oral antihistamines may also reduce itch.
  • Wet wrap therapy – Soak gauze in water, apply topical medications, then wrap damp gauze over skin before putting on dry bandages. The wetness soothes inflamed skin.
  • Cold compresses – Applying cold, wet compresses can curb itching. Some people find ice packs or cool gel packs helpful.
  • Phototherapy – For severe flares, targeted UV light therapy under medical supervision can reduce inflammation.
  • Medications – Corticosteroid creams or oral medications may be prescribed for short-term flare control if over-the-counter options aren’t effective.
  • Bleach baths – Regularly soaking in a bath containing a small amount of bleach can treat flare ups by reducing bacteria on the skin.
  • Avoid scratching – As hard as it is, try not to scratch the irritated skin as this further damages the skin barrier.

When to See a Doctor

Consult your dermatologist or doctor if:

  • The flare persists and does not improve with self-care after 2 weeks
  • The rash is weeping, crusting, or infected
  • Symptoms are disrupting sleep or daily life activities
  • Over-the-counter treatments are not providing relief
  • You experience new skin symptoms like redness, swelling, and pain

Doctors can help identify whether an infection or allergen is provoking the flare up. They may prescribe stronger medications or other specialized treatments to get the flare under control. Don’t hesitate to reach out for medical support during a significant flare.

The Takeaway

Coping with eczema flare ups involves both preventative lifestyle measures and targeted treatments when outbreaks occur. Pay attention to potential triggers and eliminate them when possible from your daily routine. Maintain diligent skin hydration and moisturizing habits. Have a flare toolkit ready with anti-itch creams, wet wraps, and other soothing remedies. See your doctor for guidance if home care strategies aren’t calming the irritated skin. While flares are expected with eczema, the right preparation and response can help minimize their severity and duration.

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