With winter, comes the unavoidable issue of dry skin and chapped lips. Dry skin has always been a difficult condition to combat during the colder months. But in certain cases, it is not necessarily constrained to that time frame. Dry skin could also be a form of eczema, which is a broader term for a group of medical issues which make the skin inflamed and irritated. Atopic Eczema is a very common medical condition that can happen to anyone. So, let us know more about this type of skin allergy and its close association with dry skin.
What is Eczema?
Eczema is generally meant to describe atopic dermatitis, which is its most common type. Atopic refers to a group of diseases which affect the immune system while dermatitis is the inflammation of the skin. This condition makes your skin look red and itchy. It is most common among children and could occur at an age. This medical condition is a chronic disease accompanied by periodical flare-ups. Though there has been no cure discovered for eczema yet, appropriate treatments and self-care measures can help to relieve the symptoms.
Symptoms of Eczema
Atopic dermatitis mostly starts before the age of five and may continue into adolescence and adulthood. The signs and symptoms of this disease could vary, depending on the age of the patient. People with such conditions have certain periods of flare-up followed by periods in which the symptoms improve. The symptoms depend upon the age and include:
Symptoms under 2 years
- Rashes, most commonly on the scalp and cheeks.
- Rashes which could lead to extreme itchiness.
- Rashes bubble up and start leaking fluid.
- Continuous rubbing and scratching could lead to skin infections.
Symptoms until puberty
- Rashes generally appear on the creases of elbows and knees.
- Rashes commonly appear on neck, wrists, ankles, and crease of buttocks and legs.
- Rashes would become lightened or darkened in colour.
- Rashes turn bumpy.
- Rashes thicken and develop into knots and cause permanent itching. This is known as lichenification.
Symptoms in adults
- Rashes come up on elbow, knee creases and on nape of the neck.
- Prominent rashes on the neck, face and around eyes.
- Rashes can lead to extremely dry skin and permanent itchiness.
- Rashes appear on most portion of the body.
- Highly scaly rashes which lead to skin infections.
Causes of Eczema
Though the exact cause of eczema remains unknown, it is considered to be linked to certain risk factors or triggers. These include:
- The primary reason for atopic dermatitis is having a personal or family history of asthma, allergies, hay fever, or eczema.
- An overactive response of the body’s immune system towards irritants.
- It could also be due to a gene variation which affects your skin’s ability to protect you from bacteria, irritants, and allergens.
- In certain children, food allergies may cause eczema.
- Defects in skin barrier cause the germs and moisture to move in and out.
- Flare-ups could result due to response or contact with certain substances like soap, detergent, harsh chemicals, animal dander, coarse face washes etc.
- Respiratory infections and cold also act as triggers.
Treatment for Eczema
There is no sure-shot cure for eczema. Treatment of this medical condition helps to heal the affected skin and prevents the flaring up of symptoms considerably. For certain people, eczema goes away with time. While for others, it is a lifelong issue. Doctors will recommend a treatment plan for you, depending on your age, symptoms, and present state of health. Treatment includes:
- Home remedies: There are multiple things which eczema patients can do to improve their skin health. These include:
- Taking baths in lukewarm water.
- Applying moisturizer just after bathing to keep the moisture in the skin locked.
- Regular moisturizing and using mild soaps & cleansers.
- Donning soft fabrics like cotton and avoiding rough, scratchy fabrics.
- After bathing, the skin should be air dried or gently patted with a soft towel.
- Avoid getting exposed to rapid changes of temperature.
- Making the use of a humidifier in dry or cold weather.
- Keeping fingernails short and trimmed to prevent wounding the skin while scratching.
- Medications: There are several medicines which doctors prescribe for eczema.
The commonly suggested ones are as follows:
- Anti-inflammatory medicines like topical corticosteroid creams and ointments which help to relive the skin inflammation and itchiness.
- Systemic corticosteroids are given by mouth or by injections if topical treatment does not work.
- Antibiotics are prescribed if eczema is accompanied by a bacterial skin infection.
- Antiviral and antifungal medicines are used to treat viral and fungal infections.
- Antihistamines cause drowsiness and prevent night-time scratching.
- Topical calcineurin inhibitors help to suppress the immune system and prevent flare-ups.
- Phototherapy – moderated exposure to ultraviolet waves – is used to treat dermatitis.
Prevention of Eczema
Eczema outbreaks can be avoided or the severity of symptoms may be lessened by the following measures:
- Regular moisturizing of skin, at least twice a day, using creams, lotions, ointments, petroleum jelly etc.
- Trying to identify and avoid culprits of flare-ups like sweat, obesity, harsh soaps, stress, dust, pollen, and even certain food like eggs, milk, soy, wheat etc.
- Taking shorter baths up to 15 minutes, and using warm or lukewarm water.
- Avoiding drastic changes in temperature or humidity.
- Using gentle soaps and avoiding harsh fabrics.
- Using a humidifier in the room while sleeping.
- Patting skin gently with a soft towel after bathing.
Dry Skin or Eczema?
If your dry skin is scaly and itchy, you might be worrying that it may be eczema. However, there is a lot of difference between general dry skin and chronic atopic dermatitis. These are the important things to keep in mind:
- In case of Eczema, the dry skin is accompanied by severe itchiness, and patches of redness or rashes.
- In case of Eczema, the skin goes through alternating periods of calm and upset. The latter periods are caused due to certain triggers like long, hot showers, lack of moisturizing or rough fabrics.
- If the dryness of your skin is not getting healed by over-the-counter lotions and creams, you might need to see a doctor.
Now that you know what eczema actually is, you know what to expect when your skin starts to get all dried up in the winters. Make sure to closely notice the way your skin is behaving and consult a doctor as soon as eczema symptoms start to show up.