“Every day my patients ask me how they can prevent wrinkles and brown spots. My advice is to first and foremost protect yourself from the sun and UV rays.” –Dr. Gigler
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If you have a child with eczema (or atopic dermatitis), then you know how difficult it is to weed through all of the advice and old wives tales on how to stop the relentless itching and painful flare-ups. From bleach baths to taping socks on your child’s hands; family, friends and the Internet offer a plethora of “treatments” that are said to cure your child’s eczema. Parents desperate to help their child will try almost anything, but some of the advice is just plain wrong and can actually worsen your child’s skin conditions. So, what is a parent to do?
First and foremost, parents need to understand what causes eczema flare-ups and learn how to prevent them. Many children will experience reactions when the weather changes, especially when the seasons change from being hot and humid to cold and dry. Winter clothing can also worsen the condition. Wool or polyester clothing trap in air causing the skin to overheat and become sensitive. Certain bath soaps, detergents, and even foods can all be contributing factors to your child’s eczema outbreaks. It may take some detective work, but understanding the factors that cause flare-ups can be the key to controlling them.
To help protect a child from flare-ups avoid activities that lead to dry skin. You may want to alter your child’s bath schedule from everyday to every other day and shorten bath time. When you bathe you lose a lot of moisture especially if the water is hot. It is best to take quick baths (10 minutes) in lukewarm water, and immediately afterwards apply a thick moisturizer.
Applying TriCalm on the skin after you apply the moisturizer will help stop the itch. If the skin is open or abraded, TriCalm will sting momentarily, but the stinging sensation should dissipate quickly. Most people generally feel relief between two and 12 hours with TriCalm, but because TriCalm is steroid-free, you can apply it to your child’s skin as often as needed. TriCalm can be used on children 2 and older.
Here is a quick list of do’s and don’ts if you have a child suffering from eczema.
- Do follow the advice of your dermatologist or pediatrician.
- Do follow a daily skin care routine.
- Do keep a record of eczema flare-ups.
- Do bathe in lukewarm water.
- Do use a humidifier in the house.
- Do apply a think moisturizer.
- Do use an anti-itch cream or gel to soothe skin
- Don’t scratch.
- Don’t rub the skin dry after a swim or bath. Just pat the skin with a soft towel.
- Don’t wear wool, nylon or heavy synthetic fabrics.
- Don’t use petroleum jelly unless it is used immediately after a bath or shower.
- Don’t wear pajamas or clothing that causes excessive sweating.
- Don’t use harsh detergents for clothes or bedding.
When you see the word “steroid,” what do you think?
Steroids are naturally occurring substances that are produced in our bodies to regulate growth and immune function. There are many different kinds of steroids, including corticosteroids. Corticosteroids have several functions – one of which is helping to control the inflammation that may cause itch.
There are many topical steroids available for itch, and they differ in potency and formulation. Many skin conditions are treated with steroids, but evidence has shown that they are really only appropriate to treat a small number of conditions (such as eczema and psoriasis). Therefore, you may not need a product containing a steroid.
So – how can you tell if a product contains steroids? Your best bet it to read the ingredient list as you are skimming your drugstore shelves. Groups like the National Eczema Association also provide a list of product names that contain steroids. Also, as the saying goes – there’s an app for that! If you have a smart phone, there are several phone apps that can help you sift through product ingredients simply by scanning a barcode.
While products containing steroids can be effective, there can be side effects, including drying/cracking of the skin, acne, burning and changes in skin color. For that reason, you may want to opt for a more natural way to treat itch. There are several steroid-free treatments available in your drugstore. Home remedies, like cool compresses and lukewarm baths can also help.
If you are experiencing an itch and have decided it’s time to call in the professionals, there are several things you can do to help prepare yourself for your doctor’s appointment.
“There are numerous causes of pruritus, from bug bites to internal disease to other chronic conditions like eczema or psoriasis,” says Vishakha Gigler, M.D. a dermatologist at Comprehensive Dermatology Group in Encinitas, CA and a member of the Cosmederm Bioscience Scientific Advisory Board. “Because of this, it’s important to come armed with information to provide your doctor so they can more accurately diagnose your condition.”
So either the day before or the morning of your appointment, take 15 minutes to write down the following:
- What is likely causing my symptoms? (Think back: did you use a new cosmetic, cleaning or laundry product or eat something you were allergic to? Were you outdoors recently? Are you wearing a new piece of jewelry or clothing?)
- How long have I been itching? (Think back: did it start recently or have you been scratching for weeks? Can you pinpoint the date you started itching?)
- Do I have other health problems the doctor should know about? (Remember: itchy skin is sometimes associated with other conditions or medications you’re taking, so be open and honest with your dermatologist)
- Where does the itch occur? Everywhere (generalized) or in limited areas?
- Do I see a rash or does my skin basically look “normal”?
Your doctor also may ask you what you have been doing or trying to help quell your jitters, so you should also be prepared to list any home remedies or over-the-counter treatments you’ve tried. Be prepared to answer the following:
- Have your symptoms changed at all over the course of your itchiness?
- What treatments have you tried or are currently taking?
- Does anything improve (or worsen) your symptoms?
Itchiness may be out of your control, so prepping for the appointment is a good way to take your health back into your own hands.
References: Mayo Clinic/ Preparing for your Appointment
Why Winter Brings Itch (and How to Prevent It!)
Every winter, we bundle up in warm clothes and brave Cool temperatures, low humidity, and furnace-blasted dry air can leave your skin dry, flaky, and itchy. Everyone needs to protect his or her skin from drying out in winter, but if you have certain skin conditions, you should step up your routine to keep your skin healthy.
“Winter itch is a common name for the skin symptom of generalized itching in winter. While most commonly seen in the elderly and those with a history of asthma, allergies and eczema, anyone can experience winter itch,” says Dr. Vishakha Gigler, a board certified dermatologist.
With that in mind, here are a few steps everyone can take to prevent and relieve dry itchy skin in wintry weather:
- Avoid irritants: Try to avoid products that can irritate your skin such a fragrance, dryer sheets, and fabric softeners. Use a hypoallergenic laundry detergent and wear soft fabrics such as cotton.
- Add humidity to your home and office: Portable humidifiers or those that work with your heating system put moisture into the air that will be absorbed naturally by your skin and hair.
- Wear sunscreen:Sunscreen may make you think of the beach, but it’s important in winter, too. Be sure to apply a moisturizing, broad-spectrum sunscreen with at least SPF 30 to exposed areas to protect from the sun’s harmful UV rays before heading outdoors. Look for sunscreens with hyaluronic acid in them.
- Moisturize after showering: The most important thing with regards to bathing is what you do right after. Pat your skin dry with a towel and then apply a thick moisturizer to your skin. Apply in the morning and at night.
- Alleviate winter itch: To alleviate itch safely and effectively, toss a topical treatment into your bag for the day. A topical non steroid-based treatment providing fast itch relief is one option, and will help you avoid side effects like skin thinning, stretch marks, increased bruising and enlarged blood vessels.
- Protect against windburn: When heading outside on cold days, avoid windburn and prolonged exposure by wearing a hat, scarf, and gloves.
- Eat right: Stock up on foods with lots of healthy monounsaturated fats and omega-3 fatty acids, such as fish, nuts, olive oil, flax, sardines, and avocados. These foods promote good skin health.
- Hand care: The skin on your hands is thinner than most parts of the body and has fewer oil glands. That means it’s harder to keep your hands moist, especially in cold, dry weather. This can lead to itchiness and cracking. Wear gloves when you go outside; if you need to wear wool to keep your hands warm, slip on a thin cotton glove first, to avoid any irritation the wool might cause.
With the proper skin care regimen, you will keep your skin smooth, healthy and itch-free. Stay warm out there!
Older, Wiser and Scratchier: The “Senior Itch”
If you (or your loved ones) have been plagued by progressively itchy skin as you get older, you may be wondering — what gives?
Well, it’s a fact of life that your skin’s propensity for dryness increases along with your age, and this dryness is the main culprit of the so-called “senior itch.” Age-induced dryness is most often caused by your skin’s tendency to become thinner, more fragile and less elastic as you age. What’s more, as the years wear on, your body’s natural oil-producing glands gradually lose their ability to moisturize the skin as effectively. The result? Dry, flaky, scaly, rough, itchy skin.
While many seniors are affected by the “senior itch,” it’s possible to alleviate dryness and assuage overall itch by following these easy, everyday tips:
- Apply a thick moisturizer within three minutes of taking a bath or shower
- Wear lightweight cotton and natural fiber clothing; avoid wool clothing
- Ensure adequate hydration throughout the day
- Avoid waterless antibacterial cleansers (they contain alcohol, which only exacerbates dryness)
- Avoid abrasive soaps and detergents
- Limit sun exposure to the sun
Of course, in more severe cases of the senior itch, over-the-counter and prescription medications may be needed – scheduling a quick consult with your doctor is usually the best place to start.
References: Today’s Geriatric Medicine
Chronic Itch: Could it be Psoriasis?
Sometimes, an itch is caused by a temporary irritant – a pesky mosquito, an unseen patch of poison ivy, a painful sunburn. Sometimes, the cause is a bit more permanent – like psoriasis, a chronic skin condition characterized by red, flakey, scaly patches.
Chances are, you know someone affected by psoriasis. It affects an estimated 125 million people worldwide — that’s about 2 to 3 percent of the total population!
But, even though so many people are living with psoriasis, the disease is often misunderstood. So let’s take a few minutes to lay out the basic facts…
- Psoriasis is common skin condition that spurs the growth of skin cells, causing them to rapidly accumulate on the skin’s surface.
- These extra cells create thick, silvery scales and dry, red patches that are usually itchy and sometimes painful.
- Psoriasis is a chronic, often cyclical, disease. That means there may be periods where psoriasis symptoms improve, along with periods where they worsen.
- The cause of psoriasis isn’t fully known, but modern science classifies it as a type of glitch in the immune system.
- Psoriasis is NOT contagious, but is thought to be genetically linked.
While there’s no known cure for psoriasis, treatment options (both over-the-counter and prescription) can help slow skin cell growth, improve symptoms and offer significant itching relief. If you’re plagued by a long-lasting, recurring and/or painful itch, considering speaking with your doc to determine if psoriasis may be the culprit.
What does a poison ivy, oak or sumac rash look like?
When your skin is exposed to poison ivy/oak or poison sumac your body develops an allergic reaction from the oil (urushiol) residue that is found on the leaves of all three plants. This reaction generally produces a rash with red bumps and blisters that are itchy and sensitive to touch. The rash will often form a linear pattern (as do many rashes that are caused by plants), and usually appears eight to 48 hours after initial exposure.
Although many people believe poison ivy, oak and sumac are contagious and can be spread all over the body, the truth is the rash is not contagious, nor will it invade uninfected areas. Once the oil touches your skin, the oil is bound to that specific area and can no longer be transferred. The rash may appear to have spread since some areas of the body tend to develop symptoms faster than others, but generally the rash appears in different areas of the body because the oil was transferred from clothing, animal fur, backpacks or gardening tools.
It is also important to know that inhaling the smoke from burning poison ivy/oak or poison sumac can lead to inflammation of the lungs.
Before I begin with the treatment, I must note that you should get immediate medical care if you have:
- Trouble breathing or swallowing
- Swelling, especially of the eyelid
- A rash covering most of your body
- A rash involving your genitals or face
Now, here is my advice for treating reactions to poison ivy, oak and sumac.
First, try to remove the oil from your skin with rubbing alcohol. While most of us do not carry a bottle of rubbing alcohol around with us, a good trick is to wash the area off with hand sanitizer since it is usually alcohol-based. There are many over-the-counter poison ivy/oak/sumac products that can help remove the oil, but if you are in the middle of the woods hand sanitizer should do the trick!
After you attempt to remove the oil with an alcohol-based product, wash the area with soap and water. Then apply a wet, cold compress to the exposed areas. This will help with the inflammation. Next, wash all of the clothing and items you were wearing including backpacks, shoes, socks, etc. that may have had contact with the plant.
Once the rash and/or itching develops, use an anti-itch cream to relieve the itch. Although the rash is itchy, scratching the skin can lead to harmful bacterial infections.
If the rash is more severe, you should see your doctor. Depending on the severity of your reaction your doctor may prescribe a steroid cream, pill, or injection.
How long do the symptoms last?
Poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac symptoms can last anywhere from one week to one month.
Call your doctor if your symptoms worsen after you stop treatment. This may mean that you need a longer treatment plan.
A Dose of Itch: What is Medication-Related Itch?
Here’s an interesting fact for you: five percent of all itchiness may be due to your meds! Have you ever experienced this before?
Most drug-induced itchiness is considered an “adverse reaction.” To break this down for you, an adverse reaction is simply an unexpected side effect. Because the itchiness unexpected, doctors don’t have a way to predict exactly which meds might cause you to scratch.
If you take your meds and experience unexpected itchiness, here’s some news you can use:
- Drug-induced itch can be acute or chronic.
- Interestingly enough, it can also start right away (after the first time you take the drug) or it can be a delayed response, a reaction from months of use.
- Even when you stop taking the culprit, er, medication, the itch may also persist for several more months or even years sometimes!
Standard itch relief tactics such as cool compresses or over-the-counter creams might help, but one thing is clear – if itching is severe and/or causes hives or a raised rash, contact your doctor immediately.
This “fun fact” caught our eye: eczema is the Greek word for “bubbling” or “boiling” over. It makes sense then that the word eczema is applied to a variety of skin conditions that can cause an itchy, red rash or raised skin. Dermatologists use eczema to describe skin conditions that that can cause the skin to swell and discolor. The most common type of eczema is atopic dermatitis, which is why some doctors may use eczema and dermatitis interchangeably.
We’ve got a few more eczema facts for you:
- Have no fear! Eczema is common — more than 30 million Americans experience it, and it is not dangerous.
- Why, you ask? The exact cause of eczema is unknown, but it is likely related to a mix of factors (such as genetics, bacteria, environmental conditions, or immune system dysfunction).
- Around the bend: Eczema typically affects the insides of the elbows, backs of the knees, and anywhere else that bends.
- Don’t cancel your Saturday night plans! While you may not love how your itchy skin looks, eczema is not contagious.
- Young at heart: it’s also common to see eczema patches on babies; in fact, most people are diagnosed with eczema when they are babies or young children.
While eczema is known for its “look,” the “feel” is also a factor: eczema is known for its intense itch and the dreaded “itch-scratch” cycle is prevalent. Doctors encourage you not to keep scratching, as it will only make it worse. While there is no cure for eczema, it is a manageable condition and there are a variety of treatments to help the itch, such as over-the-counter treatments (including steroid-free options!) and prescription medications. Doctors also frequently tell their patients to adopt a healthy bathing and moisturizing regimen.