Winter is fast approaching and with the dip in temperature comes the increased risk of itchy skin and eczema.
While it’s not contagious and there’s no exact known cause, eczema is a recurring, non-infectious, inflammatory skin condition that’s caused by a number of internal and external triggers. This results in skin becoming dry, itchy, scaly and can even cause it to crack and bleed in extreme cases.
“There are many underlying causes of this inflammation,” Caroline Robertson, Naturopath at Flannerys Mona Vale, tells Starts at 60. “It’s very individualised what triggers a person’s eczema.”
People with a family history of eczema, asthma and even hay fever are more likely to experience it and a dermatologist will formally diagnose eczema through skin examinations and by analysing a person’s medical history. There’s no single test to diagnose the eczema and it’s usually a process of eliminating other skin conditions.
Treatments such as corticosteroids, antihistamines, antibiotics and probiotics can be prescribed or purchased over the counter, but it’s important to talk to a medical professional about the best option and possible side effects before use. Equally, other natural treatments are available but should be discussed with a health professional.
Keeping the skin moist and hydrated with oils and creams is the most effective way to keep symptoms at bay. Robertson describes winter as “a danger time” for eczema and moisturising is vital to prevent skin from cracking and bleeding. When this happens, the skin becomes more susceptible to germs and infections.
“The kind of oils that tend to help eczema are shea butter, jojoba oil, rosehip oil, sesame oil,” Robertson says.
These ingredients are anti-inflammatory, hydrating and prevent itching. Vitamin E oil is more expensive but according to a study published in the Journal of Research in Medical Sciences, can improve symptoms and quality of life.
Diet can cause eczema but because certain foods impact individuals differently, it can be a process of elimination to determine what’s actually triggering a flare up.
“Sometimes it’s a matter of getting an allergy test or doing the food tolerance test where you just delete that from your diet and reintroduce it slowly and see if it re-aggravates the eczema,” Robertson says.
The most common food irritants include alcohol, dairy, sugar, yeast, gluten, acidic foods and preservatives. Consuming alkaline foods (fruits, nuts, legumes and vegetables) and whole food diets (high in grains, beans, legumes, nuts and seeds) can ease symptoms in many cases and dieticians will be able to offer individualised diet assistance.
Internal hydration is also important and Robertson says keeping refreshed with water and herbal teas instead of coffee or caffeine can improve side effects.
Elsewhere, elements in the environment can trigger eczema for some and the cooler and dry conditions of winter can trigger itchy skin and flare-ups. Heaters or warm showers can also cause skin reactions, while flare-ups may also be caused by allergens, fragrances and soaps.
Opt for fragrance-free creams, lotions and washes, reduce heating and shower temperatures and talk to a health professional if you think clothing, pets, pollen or other common triggers are impacting skin health.
“Some people are lucky and it clears up for life and others are unlucky and it keeps poking its little head out occasionally,” Robertson says of eczema. “Just by avoiding triggers, some people at least minimise their outbreaks.”
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