It’s still winter, and the skin feels it. As cold temps persist, we keep fighting the elements and firing up that furnace. Meanwhile, the dry air is doing a number on the body’s largest organ.
If you’re having dry, itchy skin that’s rashy, could it be eczema? What causes this, and how can Teladoc help? If your heater is fired up and your skin is flared up, we’re feeling these frustrated February questions. More than 30 million Americans have eczema.1
Eczema is also sometimes called “atopic dermatitis,” which sounds a bit complex. But we’ll break it down simply, answering all your pressing questions, explaining how we’ll support you, and suggesting solutions to save your skin by springtime.
What is eczema?
We went to one of our experts, Jeffrey Zwerner, MD, a U.S.-certified dermatologist and professor at Vanderbilt University, for a simple eczema explanation: “Patients often describe eczema as the ‘itch that rashes,’” he says, meaning that people often report itching in an area before they see a rash. “It’s a very common skin condition that can flare up this time of year, triggered by dry, cold air.”
Eczema affects the skin’s ability to hold in moisture, Dr. Zwerner says. It usually begins in childhood (or even infanthood) and can remain an issue for some people their entire lives. It is not contagious.
What are the symptoms?
Dryness from eczema causes the skin to be red, itchy, and inflamed, which can be painful and uncomfortable. It often begins in the creases of the elbows and knees, on the sides of the neck, and hands, Dr. Zwerner says.
When a bout of eczema is bad, inflammation can lead to skin cracking, peeling, or blistering, and can even cause infection. Those with the condition sometimes prefer full-coverage clothing so the symptoms are concealed.
What causes eczema?
Eczema is a genetic condition—one that often runs in families—that causes an overreactive immune response to certain things inside or outside the body. This exposure causes the red, itchy skin response, Dr. Zwerner explains. Certain stimuli bring rise to the symptoms, but these differ from person to person.
What leads to flare-ups?
Since dry, cold air is a frequent trigger, eczema patients generally flare during the winter, Dr. Zwerner says, adding that there can be an allergic component, too. “Different patients have different triggers. Patients with eczema frequently also suffer from seasonal allergies and asthma.”
So while allergies to pet dander or pollens may cause symptoms, so can certain foods and other irritants. Stress and anxiety can also cause flare-ups. If you have sensitive skin and are suffering from winter skin woes, it’s important to consult with a dermatologist now to identify the triggers you may want to avoid.
What should I stay away from?
Once you figure out the triggers that seem to set off your symptoms, avoid those! Aside from environmental or situational allergens, be aware of the products that directly touch you: If you have sensitive skin, stay away from harsh soaps or heavily fragranced detergents, lotions, and sprays. Instead, opt for unscented, gentle cleansers, Dr. Zwerner suggests.
Since you want to keep skin as moisture-rich as possible, it’s important not to indulge in long, steamy showers and baths, which dehydrate the skin. Afterward, don’t rub to dry; blot gently with a soft towel.
What can help me feel better?
After a lukewarm bath or shower using a gentle soap, Dr. Zwerner says to moisturize while the skin is still damp with heavy creams or ointments instead of lighter lotions. Keep up with moisturizing throughout the day, too.
Soaking in a tub with vinegar, oatmeal, baking soda, bleach, or salt may help improve symptoms.2 But consult with a dermatologist first for guidance on putting these ingredients in your bathwater. Stay away from your triggers and look forward to the warmer, wetter weather spring is sure to bring.
Is there a cure for eczema?
While there is no cure for eczema, Dr. Zwerner notes that in most patients, the condition becomes less severe with age. Your best move in the quest for smooth, supple skin is effectively managing your skin’s moisture.
As you address the skin irritation and accompanying frustration, a U.S. board-certified specialist will talk with you about a skin management plan that will work for you. Together you’ll zero in on the reasons for inflammation and find ways to prevent and soothe it. Teladoc is here online or by app with expert skincare advice within two business days. We’ll even review photos of your skin to personalize a treatment plan for success.
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