“The itch that rashes” is a common phrase used to describe the skin condition known as eczema. Eczema is a general term for many types of dermatitis (skin inflammation) including the most common form: atopic dermatitis.

Common symptoms of eczema include itchy, red, and dry skin. Intense itching of the skin usually occurs first, followed by red, swollen, and scaly skin patches (due to the prolonged scratching). Eczema typically occurs on the face, neck, and on the insides of the elbows, knees, and ankles.

The cause of eczema has not yet been found; however, there are factors that may contribute to an eczema outbreak. Some factors include genetics, allergies, stress, soaps, clothing, and changes in temperature.

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Some common foods which may trigger eczema symptoms include cow’s milk, eggs, soy, wheat, fish, and nuts.

Eczema is not a contagious condition, but it can be extremely frustrating for those who suffer from it. Try these 11 easy ways to reduce eczema irritation:

  1. Try to identify and remove any known eczema triggers. For example, your laundry detergent may be a trigger, so you can experiment with brands for sensitive skin. More advanced measures may include eliminating certain foods from your diet or reducing stress in your work/life.
  2. Maintain a clean environment. Allergens such as dust mites, pollen, and mold, can trigger an eczema outbreak. Vacuum your carpet and drapes regularly, and wash bedding and other fabrics with hot water to help eliminate these allergens.
  3. Add moisture to the air. There is anecdotal evidence that using a humidifier may help to relieve symptoms. A less expensive alternative is to place a bowl of water in each room.
  4. In the winter, try to maintain an even skin temperature. A sudden change in temperature may trigger an itch! Keep this in mind as you are changing your clothes and your environment throughout the day. Try to keep room temperatures consistent.
  5. Take short, warm showers. Hot water is drying. Use mild soaps formulated for sensitive skin. To lock in the moisture following a shower, gently towel-blot your skin and immediately apply a moisturizing lotion.
  6. Avoid lotions with fragrances and other possible irritants. Vaseline is an inexpensive and effective moisturizer. Moisturize multiple times during the day and especially before you venture outside on a cold day.
  7. Avoid wearing tight, rough, and scratchy clothing. Wool and synthetic fibers tend to irritate the skin. Clothing made of cotton or cotton blends are better options.
  8. Avoid scratching and rubbing the skin. Scratching usually makes the condition worse. Keeping the skin moisturized will help alleviate itchiness.
  9. Use the medication prescribed by your doctor during an eczema flare-up. Steroid creams may be prescribed to help treat eczema. If prescribed, use it as directed by your doctor.
  10. Reduce stress in your life to prevent eczema flare-ups. Anxiety, anger, and frustration are commonly experienced by people with eczema. Stress can provoke itching and make eczema worse. Practice relaxation techniques, and talk to a counselor for additional support.
  11. Talk to your doctor about keeping a food and symptoms diary. If you have severe eczema, a food sensitivity (allergy) may trigger a flare-up or make symptoms worse. Some common foods which may trigger eczema symptoms include cow’s milk, eggs, soy, wheat, fish, and nuts.

Sources: American Academy of dermatology, American Academy of Family Physicians, National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, and Washington and Adventist HealthCare Shady Grove Medical Centers.