There is no cure for atopic eczema, but treatments can ease the symptoms. Many children find their symptoms naturally improve as they get older.
The main treatments for atopic eczema are:
Other treatments include topical pimecrolimus or tacrolimus for eczema in sensitive sites not responding to simpler treatment,antihistamines for severe itching, bandages or special body suits to allow the body to heal underneath, or more powerful treatments offered by a dermatologist (skin specialist).
The various treatments foratopic eczema are outlined below.
As well as the treatments mentioned above, there are thingsyou cando yourself to help easeyour symptoms and prevent further problems.
Eczema is often itchy and it can be very tempting to scratch the affected areas of skin. But scratching usually damages the skin, which can itself cause more eczema to occur.
The skin eventually thickens into leathery areas as a result of chronic scratching. Deep scratching also causes bleeding and increases the risk of your skin becoming infected or scarred.
Try to reduce scratching whenever possible. You could try gently rubbing your skin with your fingers instead. If your baby has atopic eczema, anti-scratch mittens may stop them scratching their skin.
Keep your nails short and clean to minimise damage to the skin from unintentional scratching. Keep your skin covered with light clothing to reduce damage from habitual scratching.
Your GP will work with you toestablish what mighttrigger the eczema flare-ups, althoughit may get better or worse for no obvious reason.
Once you knowyour triggers, you can try to avoid them.For example:
Althoughsome people with eczema are allergic to house dust mites, trying to rid your home of them isn't recommendedas it can be difficult and there is no clear evidence that it helps.
Read more about preventing allergies.
Some foods, such as eggs and cows' milk, can trigger eczema symptoms. However, you should not make significant changes to your diet without first speaking to your GP.
It may not be healthy to cut these foods from your diet, especially in young children who need the calcium, calories and protein from these foods.
If your GP suspects you have afood allergy, you may be referred to a dietitian (a specialist in diet and nutrition), who can help work out a way to avoid the food you're allergic to while ensuring you still get all the nutrition you need.
Alternatively, you may be referred to a hospital specialist such as an immunologist, dermatologist or paediatrician.
If you are breastfeeding a baby with atopic eczema, get medical advice before making any changes to your regular diet.
Emollients are moisturising treatments applied directly to the skin to reduce water loss and cover it with a protective film. They are often used to help manage dry or scaly skin conditions such as atopic eczema.
In addition to making the skin feel less dry, they may also have a mild anti-inflammatory role, and can help reduce the number of flare-ups you have.
Several different emollients are available. You may need to try a few to find one that works for you. You may also be advised to use a mix of emollients, such as:
The difference between lotions, creams and ointments is the amount of oil they contain. Ointments contain the most oil so they can be quite greasy, but are the most effective at keeping moisture in the skin.
Lotions contain the least amount of oil so are not greasy, but can be less effective. Creams are somewhere in between.
If you have been using a particular emollient for some time, it may eventually become less effective or may start to irritate your skin.
If this is the case, your GP will be able to prescribe another product that suits you better. The best emollient is the one you feel happy using every day.
Use your emollient all the time, even if you are not experiencing symptoms. Many people find it helpful to keep separate supplies of emollients at work or school, or a tub in the bathroom and one in a living area.
To apply the emollient:
You should use an emollient at least twice a day if you can, or more often if you have very dry skin.
During a flare-up, apply generous amounts of emollient more frequently, but remember to treat inflamed skin with a topical corticosteroidas emollients usedon their ownare not enough to control it.
Don't put your fingers into an emollient pot use a spoon or pump dispenser instead, as this reduces the risk of infection. And never share your emollient with other people.
If your skin is sore and inflamed, your GP may prescribe a topical corticosteroid (applied directly to your skin), which can reduce the inflammation within a few days.
Topical corticosteroids can be prescribed in different strengths, depending on the severity of your atopic eczema and the areas of skin affected.
They can be very mild (such as hydrocortisone), moderate (such as clobetasone butyrate), or even stronger (such as mometasone).
If you need to use corticosteroids frequently, see your GP regularly so they can check the treatment is working effectively and you are using the right amount.
Don't be afraid to apply the treatment to affected areas to control your eczema. Unless instructed otherwise by your doctor, follow the directions on the patient information leaflet that comes with your medication. This will give details of how much to apply.
Most people will only have to apply it once a day as there is no evidence there is any benefit to applying it more often.
When using a topical corticosteroid:
Occasionally, your doctor may suggest using a topical corticosteroid less frequently, but over a longer period of time. This is designedto help prevent flare-ups.
This is sometimes called "weekend treatment", where a person who has already gained control of their eczema uses the topical corticosteroid every weekend on the trouble sites to prevent them becoming active again.
Topical corticosteroids may cause a mild stinging sensation for less than a minute as you apply them.
In rare cases, they may also cause:
Most of these side effects will improve once treatment stops.
Generally, using a strong topical corticosteroid for many months,using them in sensitive areas such as theface, armpits or groin, or using a large amount will increase your risk of side effects. For this reason, you should be prescribed the weakest effective treatment to control your symptoms.
Antihistamines are a type of medicine that blocks the effects of a substance in the blood called histamine. Theycan help relieve the itching associated with atopic eczema.
They can eitherbe sedating, which cause drowsiness,ornon-sedating. If you have severe itching, your GP may suggest tryinga non-sedating antihistamine.
If itching during a flare-up affects your sleep, your GP may suggest taking a sedatingantihistamine. Sedatingantihistamines can cause drowsiness into the following day, so it may be helpful to let your child's school know they may not be as alert as normal.
In some cases, your GP may prescribe special medicated bandages, clothing or wet wraps to wear over areas of skin affected by eczema.
These can either be used over emollients or with topical corticosteroids to prevent scratching, allow the skin underneath to heal, and stop the skin drying out.
Corticosteroid tabletsare rarely used to treat atopic eczema nowadays, but may occasionally be prescribed for short periods of 5to 7days to help bring particularly severe flare-ups under control.
Longer courses of treatment are generally avoided because of the risk of potentially serious side effects.
If your GP thinks your condition may be severe enough to benefit from repeated or prolonged treatment with corticosteroid tablets, they will probably refer you to a specialist.
In some cases, your GP may refer you to a specialist in treating skin conditions (dermatologist).
You may be referred if your GP is not sure what type of eczema you have, normal treatment is not controlling your eczema, your eczema is affecting your daily life, or it's not clear what is causing it.
A dermatologist may be able to offer the following:
A dermatologist may also offer additional support to help you use your treatments correctly, such as demonstrations from nurse specialists, and they may be able to refer you for psychological support if you feel youneed it.
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