Among the different chronic skin conditions, eczema is one of the most common. This can come from many outside sources, including your skin barrier and genetics. There are a few different types of eczema, including seborrheic dermatitis. Other forms include contact dermatitis and stasis dermatitis. Atopic dermatitis is the most common form, which many people simply call eczema.
Regardless of your exact diagnosis, it is important to know the underlying causes involved in developing eczema, how to recognize the symptoms of a flare-up, and the environmental and psychosocial factors that may trigger or worsen an outbreak to better choose the treatment that is right for you. Consulting an expert from Functional Medicine Los Angeles would be a great place to start.
- Who Gets Eczema?
The specific cause of eczema is not known, but several factors have been shown to increase the likelihood of its development. Children from higher socioeconomic classes, who live in cold or polluted environments, and those born to older women are more likely to be diagnosed with atopic dermatitis. Having a relative with eczema, asthma, or seasonal allergies may also increase the risk.
It is important to remember that correlation does not prove causation. On the question of class, for instance, upper- and middle-class families have greater access to healthcare and are more likely to use those resources to obtain a diagnosis than working-class families, who may not be able to afford non-emergency visits to the doctor.
Unlike more common forms of eczema, nummular dermatitis is not likely to develop in childhood, and men get it more than women. Even so, men typically don’t have their first outbreak until their mid-50s. For those women who do develop nummular dermatitis, the first outbreak is more likely to occur during the teenage years or early adulthood.
Generally, eczema is more severe and harder to treat in those with lowered immune systems, but it can be caused by other medical issues as well. Stasis dermatitis develops in people whose lower leg veins don’t function properly, causing problems with circulation and the return of blood to the heart.
Despite these many variations and the populations who are most likely to contract them, anyone can develop eczema at any age, so it is important to know the signs and symptoms. You can learn more about eczema by speaking with a healthcare professional from Functional Medicine Burbank.
- What Does It Look Like?
Although eczema is not a form of allergy, atopic dermatitis does resemble an allergic reaction or rash and can be mistaken for such if not carefully observed. Atopic dermatitis most often affects the hands, feet, face, inner elbows, and backs of the knees. When scratched, pus-filled blisters can burst and form a crust over the affected area. Over time, the skin may become thick and take on a reddish hue.
Neurodermatitis causes small, isolated outbreaks affecting the scalp, the insides of the ears, back of the neck, wrists, ankles, and genitals. Although the rash doesn’t spread, the itching can be intense, and patients often scratch without realizing it or in their sleep. As with atopic dermatitis, irritated skin can grow thick and even develop deep wrinkles.
Symptoms may be similar for different types of eczema, but other forms have a vastly different appearance. Nummular dermatitis causes red, coin-shaped marks to appear on the legs, backs of the hands, forearms, lower back, and hips. On the other hand, stasis dermatitis causes oozing, or weeping, of the skin as blisters, filled with clear liquid, leading to brown stains later in life.
Seborrheic dermatitis (otherwise known as dandruff) causes the skin to fall off in small, white flakes, and most commonly affects the scalp. However, it can also appear in the eyebrows, and pubic area, on the chest, behind the ears, and on either side of the nose.
Most forms of eczema, particularly dyshidrotic dermatitis, can cause deep and painful cracks, or fissures, in the skin. For these severe forms of eczema, you must immediately seek the advice of a health practitioner from Functional Medicine Studio City.
- What Are the Triggers?
There are many triggers that can cause or worsen outbreaks, from environmental factors (e.g., air quality, soaps, dyes, chemicals, and synthetic or scratchy materials in bedding or clothes) to psychological factors (e.g., stress, anxiety, or obsessive-compulsive disorder). Both physical and emotional stress are linked with eczema (and some other skin conditions) and can intensify symptoms in each of the various types of dermatitis. Knowing the triggers associated with each form of eczema can help you avoid these irritants and reduce breakouts in frequency as well as severity. Our experts at Functional Medicine Hollywood can help you identify your triggers.
Despite the lack of evidence directly linking eczema to a food allergy, there are some foods to which those with eczema also become allergic, and/or which are known to trigger or worsen outbreaks. Foods containing dairy and gluten are most commonly associated with atopic dermatitis, but patients also report reactions to nuts, eggs, soy products, fish, and shellfish. Not all eczema patients are allergic to these products; however, many experience flare-ups in response to touching or consuming them.
Dandruff may be due to an overgrowth of the yeast that lives in the affected areas, or the overgrowth and rapid shedding of skin cells on the scalp. However, there are environmental factors that can increase the chance of an outbreak or cause particularly unmanageable symptoms.
Cold, dry environments may contribute to dry scalp; conversely, in humid environments, sweating, and using ponytail holders can create heat and moisture on the scalp, which also worsens outbreaks.
Contact dermatitis occurs when the skin comes in contact with one of two triggers – either an irritant, such as soap, or an allergen, such as poison ivy – and becomes damaged. This type of eczema may develop after prolonged or repeated contact (such as frequent handwashing), but it can also flare in response to even brief exposure to the triggering substance.
Known triggers for contact dermatitis include harsh chemicals such as formaldehyde or those found in clothing and cleansers; beauty products like foundation or perfumes; and certain metals, such as nickel. Although its exact causes are unknown, nummular dermatitis outbreaks can also be caused or worsened by these substances, along with exposure to cold or dry air.
- How Can You Lessen it?
One of the most difficult things about having eczema is enduring the constant and intense itching without being able to scratch. Brain tricks like mirror scratching and acupressure are helpful for some patients, but for those who find these techniques difficult to master or ineffective, many natural home remedies can help relieve itchy, dried, and cracked skin.
Lifestyle and dietary changes can also help prevent flare-ups and reduce irritation by limiting contact with environmental and other triggers.
Oatmeal baths help relieve itching and flaking. Bathe for 15 minutes to hydrate your skin then moisturize generously with a skin-protecting lotion or cream. You may apply wet wraps to hold in moisture by placing a double-layer of cloth over the affected skin areas, one wet and one dry. Leave on for a few hours or overnight to let your skin soak in the cream and stay cool.
Warm and cold compresses provide relief in just a few minutes and can be as simple as pulling an ice pack from your fridge. Cold compresses – easily substituted for frozen peas or a sandwich bag of ice cubes – are best for numbing intense itching while reducing the inflammation and oozing caused by blisters. It may take 10-15 minutes of application to start noticing these effects.
Chamomile is naturally calming to both the body and the mind, as it contains molecular compounds that bind to the same receptors in the brain as benzodiazepines (anti-anxiety medication). A warm chamomile compress can be prepared from loose-leaf chamomile flowers or with tea bags purchased at the grocery store. Wait for the steam to subside to avoid scalding, then soak a cloth in the liquid and wring it out. Apply to the affected area until cool.
Lotions & Oils
Aloe Vera works best direct from the plant and is low maintenance for keeping around the house or in your garden. Packaged Aloe Vera products tend to be diluted and contain mostly water or even other chemicals that may not be safe for sensitive skin. Natural Aloe Vera instantly soothes and deeply moisturizes irritated, itchy, and red skin.
Calendula extract is used to reduce pain and inflammation and can be found in oils, lotions, and salves, usually at health food stores. Like Aloe, there are no known side effects, so it can be applied generously as often as needed. Calendula lotion can even be mixed with Aloe Vera to strengthen its healing power.
Coconut, sunflower seed, and sweet almond oils nourish and soften the skin, as well as reduce inflammation. They are also much cheaper than medicated eczema creams, and many patients report that they are far more effective. When choosing coconut oil, make sure it is cold-pressed, virgin, and organic. Coconut oil naturally contains healing, anti-inflammatory nutrients, enzymes, and minerals, but these can be processed out when mass-manufactured.
Sweet almond oil, which contains ursolic and oleic acids, can be used to both protect and repair skin. Rub it on before showering to keep the water from penetrating and drying out your skin. While it may feel good at first, hot water quickly evaporates and leaves the skin drier than before. Baby oil can also be used for this purpose.
If you can’t decide which essential oil is best suited to your skin type and needs, book a consultation with Functional Medicine Sherman Oaks today.
If you have flare-ups after eating, avoid foods that are known irritants, or eliminate them one at a time to figure out which ones your body can and cannot tolerate. Instead, fill your diet with foods rich in antioxidants (green vegetables and blue and red fruits) and probiotics (yogurt, soft cheeses, and certain bread).
Wearing protective gloves when handling meat, fruit, and vegetables can reduce contact dermatitis caused by preservatives and pesticides. Wash produce with water or veggie wash before cooking or eating.
Lifestyle and Environment
Stress and anxiety intensify inflammation and make it harder to stop scratching, so it is important to learn how to manage these issues with self-care and relaxation techniques. Certain therapies, like cognitive-behavioral therapy or biofeedback therapy, can help retrain your body to avoid reflexive or automatic responses to stimuli, like scratching an itch. However, many relaxation and stress-reducing techniques can be mastered on your own.
Guided or mindful meditation, even for ten minutes a day, clears the mind and induces calm. Mindfulness also plays a role in neuroplasticity, which allows your brain to eliminate bad habits and form new ones. Deep breathing exercises, stretching, or reading a book can also help you refocus.
Using hypoallergenic soap, body washes, shampoo, and conditioner can help to prevent eczema outbreaks as they are less damaging and contain fewer triggering substances compared to those containing excess dyes or fragrance chemicals. If you love your scented bath products, try looking for organic or hand-made alternatives, which are naturally scented and colored and often made with restorative oils or extracts.
Avoid overly hot showers and baths in favor of warm ones, and cut down the amount of time you spend in the water. Pat or towel dry immediately after bathing and apply a thick lotion or oil to lock in moisture.
Many manufactured textiles (like rayon and non-organic cotton) are treated with harsh preservatives like ammonia and acetone, along with pesticides and herbicides. These chemicals can leave byproducts in the clothing, making it rough, scratchy, and even toxic to the skin. Instead, choose clothes made with organic cotton, hemp, linen, silk, and other natural fabrics.
Finally, you can exert some control over your environment by using a humidifier. Not to be confused with essential oil diffusers, humidifiers are larger and can be left on all day to combat the dry air associated with arid climates, cold winters, or air-conditioning.
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