Although there is currently no cure for atopic eczema, there are a number of different treatment options and these are normally based on the severity of your symptoms and what works best for you. You may need to try a few different things to figure out what best eases your symptoms, and this may take a while.
Atopic eczema also tends to flare up and remit, so you may have periods when the condition is particularly bad, even if you have found a treatment that works for you, followed by a period when your symptoms are minimal.
If diagnosed in children, which is common, they may grow out of the condition naturally, or the symptoms may ease at least, though it can sometimes continue into adulthood.
Here we’ll take a closer look at how to deal with atopic eczema.
How is atopic eczema treated?
If you’re diagnosed with the condition, a doctor or specialist will be able to go through the available treatments and best options for you based on your symptoms.
The main thing to do is to keep the skin nice and moisturised, usually using emollients (moisturisers), but topical corticosteroids are sometimes needed during a flare up. There are some things you can try day-to-day too, which we’ll take a look at in more detail below.
These are moisturisers - but not like the ones you can buy in the shops to keep your skin looking young, or shine free. Emollients for eczema are a really important part of treatment - they create a barrier on the skin to prevent loss of moisture and are usually used on a daily basis to help keep your skin moisturised, more comfortable and to help prevent inflammation and the itching that occurs with the condition.
They can be creams, ointments or lotions and may need to be applied to directly to the skin or used as a soak in the bath or when showering. Your doctor will let you know how often you need to use them, but it’s often numerous times a day.
You may also be prescribed a number of different ones and may need to try a few to find out which work best for you and your atopic eczema. If your atopic eczema is mild, these may be all you need to keep it under control.
Topical steroids (steroid cream or ointment)
An eczema flare up can cause your skin to become inflamed, this may result in you needing a topical corticosteroid treatment to reduce the soreness and inflammation of your skin, to bring the flare up under control. These are normally used alongside an emollient and are not for long-term use due to the side effects they can cause.
If you have a particularly severe flare up, you may be prescribed a strong topical steroid for a short period of time. You may also be prescribed antibiotics if your atopic eczema becomes infected during a flare up.
Topical means that they are applied to your skin, directly on the affected area - they’ll reduce the inflammation, giving your skin a change to heal itself. Always follow the instructions given to you by your doctor when using topical steroids.
These can be used to help to ease the itching that the atopic eczema can cause.
Paste medicated bandages and wraps
Medicated bandages are available, which you can wrap around areas of skin that are affected by the atopic eczema to help with moisturisation and sometime increase the potency of steroid creams.
If your atopic eczema becomes infected, you may need antibiotics to clear up the infection, alongside your normal treatments. These need to be prescribed by a GP - see a doctor if you are showing signs of infection.
Other treatments may include phototherapy, immunosuppressant tablets, or oral steroids - these are usually recommended by a dermatologist, who is a skin specialist.
Avoiding irritants and triggers
Certain things may trigger a flare up of your atopic eczema. What this trigger is will vary from person to person, but can include:
- Dry skin
- Contact with certain irritants, which can be soaps, shampoos, make up, detergent, dust, sand, cigarette smoke etc.
- Food allergies or diet
- Illness - even the common cold can cause a flare up in some people
- Skin infections or other infections
- Allergic reactions
- Synthetic fabric, wool or other materials used to make clothing
- Allergens such as pets, dust or pollen
- The weather - for example if there’s low humidity
- Getting too hot or too cold
- Hormones, such as before their period in women, or pregnancy
- Pet dander
- House dust mites
Food allergies may also be a trigger for some people - this is more likely in children. The relationship between atopic eczema and food isn’t yet fully understood, but common foods that can cause a flare up in some people include:
- Cow’s milk
- Nuts, such as peanuts
- Soy products
- Fish, including shellfish
By working with a doctor to figure out if something does trigger your flare ups, you can try to avoid these in the future. If you notice that a treatment isn’t working, speak to a GP, as they may want to try you on an alternative.
What happens if atopic eczema is left untreated?
Eczema is not usually a dangerous condition, however, if left untreated it can lead to complications. The treatments for eczema will not usually cause disruption to your daily life, so it is best to seek treatment as soon as possible.
Some complications associated to eczema include:
- Skin infections, caused by bacteria or viruses getting into the cracked skin
- Disturbed sleep, because the skin is itchy or sore
- Anxiety or self-esteem problems, due to the appearance of the rash