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Managing and Living with Atopic Dermatitis

Medically reviewed by Debra Sullivan, PhD, MSN, RN, CNE, COI on May 19, 2016Written by Megan Baird on May 19, 2016

Being diagnosed with atopic dermatitis (AD) can be frustrating. You quickly learn that there’s no real cure and that even with good prevention, you can still have unexpected flare-ups.

But don’t give up hope. Knowing and understanding your triggers will help you minimize your worst symptoms. Day-to-day management should help you improve your quality of life.

Personal care

Taking good care of your body is one of the first steps to minimizing your AD symptoms. Your primary prevention goal should be to help your skin retain as much water as possible.

One of the best ways to do this is by taking a daily bath or shower and then immediately applying moisturizer on damp skin. These quick bathing tips will help you maintain healthier skin:

Set a timer

Short showers and baths, around 10 to 15 minutes, is just enough time to get your skin clean without drying it out too much.

Never use hot water

Turn the temperature down a few notches from what most people would consider a warm shower.

Use fragrance-free bar or liquid cleanser

Be sure to rinse thoroughly to remove residue.

Be gentle

Pat your skin with a towel when you’re done instead of scrubbing.

Moisturize

Apply a cream or lotion to damp skin within three minutes after bathing.

Trim your nails

Short nails do less damage when you start to scratch and will help prevent infections. In an ideal world, you wouldn’t scratch your skin, but you might even be scratching while you sleep.

Be prepared

Consider traveling with your own soaps and lotions instead of relying on hotel-provided options. The heavily fragranced soaps in most public bathrooms can be irritating to your skin.

It also might be worth bringing a small container of your preferred soap with you while you’re out and about. Keeping a small bottle of lotion in your purse or briefcase, on your desk, or in your car should help you remember to moisturize after each hand washing.

Household tips

There are many small adjustments you can make around the house that will greatly improve your skin. Here are just a few things to consider:

Opt for green products

The use of harsh chemical sprays can aggravate AD even if they don’t come in contact with your skin. Always wear cotton-lined gloves when handling household cleaning products.

Choose the right detergent

Look for a detergent that’s free of dyes and fragrance, which can irritate skin. Note that “unscented” doesn’t always mean fragrance-free. Always use the least amount of detergent possible for the load size.

Using too much detergent can lead to lingering residue on your clothes and linens. You can try running a second rinse cycle or even adding vinegar to the rinse cycle if detergent residue is irritating your skin.

Get rid of dust

Dust mites are common allergens that lurk in many homes. Dust tends to cling to carpet, drapes, blinds, and rugs. Clean these surfaces as often as you can or consider removing carpeting and rugs if possible.

Wash other household fabrics like sheets and bath towels at least once in a week in hot water. Some newer washing machines have allergen or sanitization settings, which should help properly clean your bedding.

Stick to cotton

Choosing the wrong clothing can irritate eczema-prone skin. If you’ve had AD for a while, you may have noticed that sweat can trigger a flare-up. Some people think that switching to synthetic, moisture wicking fabrics or wool will be a good solution for this problem.

Unfortunately, rough wool and most manmade fabrics weren’t designed for people with AD. Cotton is often your best bet. When you do buy new clothes, it’s helpful to wash them before wearing them for the first time. This will remove any chemical residue left behind from the manufacturing and shipping process.

Lifestyle tips

Just because you have AD doesn’t mean you can’t live a normal, active life. Here are simple adjustments that will ease and prevent your worst symptoms.

Stay away from pollen

Try to reduce the presence of environmental allergens. Check your local pollen forecast, as it might be best to stay inside on the worst days. If you do want to go outside, take a quick shower when you come back in. This will help rinse away any allergens and irritants. Also, remember to close your windows to keep unwanted pollen, dust, and smoke out of your home.

Groom your pets

If you have cats or dogs, try to minimize contact with their dander. You may want to keep them off of surfaces like your couch and bed.

Keep it cool

Your time in an indoor climate is even more important than time spent outdoors. Keep your room cool at night while you sleep so that you don’t sweat. Wear as little bedtime clothing as possible so that your skin can stay dry and cool.

Locking heat in with too must bedding or clothing will just keep sweat trapped against your skin.

Buy a humidifier

If you live in a cool, dry climate, using a humidifier in the winter can be helpful. A cool-mist humidifier will help you maintain constant humidity levels inside your home and allow you to sleep more comfortably.

Relax

If stress triggers AD flare-ups, learn some stress management techniques. A short yoga practice or even a 5-minute meditation session can help you stay calm. If you’re stressed out at work, just taking a quick walk away from your desk may help you feel more collected when you return.

Takeaway

Don’t be discouraged by your AD. It should never keep you from living a comfortable, active life. For almost any situation that irritates your symptoms, a simple tweak can make things better.

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