Eczema is a condition that causes red and itchy skin. There are several types of eczema:

  • atopic dermatitis
  • contact dermatitis
  • dyshidrotic eczema
  • nummular eczema
  • seborrheic eczema

Atopic dermatitis is the most common type of eczema. It is estimated that in the United States over 10 percent of children and over 7 percent of adults have atopic dermatitis.

Eczema is caused by both genetic and environmental factors. There is currently no cure for eczema. But you can better manage the condition with these tips on how to treat and prevent eczema flare-ups.

The first step to managing atopic dermatitis is to stop outbreaks before they begin. Strategies include:

Beware of food allergies

About 30 percent of children with eczema have food allergies. Common food allergies that can worsen symptoms include:

  • eggs
  • milk
  • peanuts
  • soybeans
  • fish
  • wheat

Avoid environmental triggers

There are many environmental allergens that can trigger atopic dermatitis. These include:

  • pollen
  • mold
  • animals
  • tobacco smoke
  • air pollution
  • dust mites

Take special care to avoid items that trap dust, such as:

  • feather pillows
  • down comforters
  • carpeting
  • drapes

Wash your bedding in hot water. Also, try using synthetic fiber bedding and impenetrable mattress covers to help you avoid dust. Vacuuming carpets and drapes can also help remove dust.

Check the air quality of your surroundings

Your skin can be irritated by changes in temperature and humidity. Eczema tends to worsen in cold, dry air.

Try installing a humidifier in your home to create a moister environment. And monitor your thermostat to regulate indoor temperatures.

Be careful of skin irritants

Eczema breakouts can be triggered by contact with irritating chemicals. Many soaps, detergents, and lotions contain fragrances and dyes that can trigger eczema outbreaks.

Try to find cleansing products that are scent-free and do not contain alcohol. Certain fabrics may also irritate your skin, so avoid rough materials like wool.

Change your bathing routine

Your bathing routine can have a big impact on your skin. You can try the following in order to avoid an eczema flare-up:

  • Take short, lukewarm baths instead of long, hot showers.
  • Use gentle cleansers instead of soap.
  • Try to dab the skin rather than rub when drying with a towel.
  • Moisturize right after bathing by applying ointment to damp skin to trap moisture.

Stay healthy

Illnesses like the flu or the common cold may trigger an eczema flare-up. Washing your hands with scent-free soap and avoiding germs will help protect you from getting sick.

Reduce your stress

Emotional factors like stress can make your eczema worse. Establishing a regular sleep cycle, exercising regularly, and practicing stress management techniques like yoga and meditation can increase your mental wellness.

Stay hydrated

Staying hydrated will keep your skin moist. Try to drink eight glasses of water every day.

There are several steps you can take to manage eczema flare-ups:

Avoid scratching

Scratching may cause temporary relief but the damage to your skin can make your eczema worse and leave you vulnerable to infections.

Keep your fingernails short to avoid harming your skin. Wear gloves at night if you scratch in your sleep.

Moisturize

Moisturizers may relieve itching and prevent further flare-ups. Use cream-based moisturizers and ointments like petroleum jelly that are free from skin-irritating chemicals like alcohol, scents, dyes, and fragrances.

Look for products that have labels such as “for sensitive skin,” “hypoallergenic,” and “fragrance free.” Lubricate the skin two to three times a day.

Try over-the-counter medications

Creams and ointments that contain the steroid cortisone may help the itching, redness, and swelling caused by eczema. You can pick up an ointment with hydrocortisone at your local pharmacy.

You may also try an antihistamine like hydroxyzine (Atarax) or diphenhydramine (Benadryl) to help control the itching. But beware that these antihistamines cause drowsiness.

Antihistamines that don’t cause drowsiness include:

  • loratadine (Claritin)
  • fexofenadine (Allegra)
  • cetirizine (Zyrtec)

When should you see a doctor?

See a doctor if you are experiencing the following:

  • You are unable to perform your daily routine.
  • You are losing sleep.
  • Your skin is painful.
  • Your skin has red streaks, yellow scabs, pus, or other signs of infection.
  • You have tried self-care steps and have had no success.
  • You suspect the condition may be affecting your eyes and vision.

Your doctor may prescribe a stronger steroid cream or steroid pills to manage your eczema outbreaks. These prescription treatments are not for long-term use.

Contact dermatitis is caused by contact with irritating substances. These substances can include:

  • soaps
  • cosmetics
  • fragrances
  • jewelry made of or containing nickel
  • plants like poison ivy or poison oak

Treating contact dermatitis

Contact dermatitis often takes two to four weeks to heal. To relieve itching, you may use an over-the-counter corticosteroid or an antihistamine.

You should see a doctor if:

  • The rash causes sleep loss or distracts you from your daily routine.
  • The rash affects your genitals or face.
  • The rash does not improve within a few weeks.
  • The rash is painful, widespread, or severe.

Your doctor can still prescribe treatment for eczema if none of the above apply but you are bothered by the appearance of the rash.

You should seek immediate medical help if:

  • You experience signs of infection such as a fever or oozing blisters.
  • You have difficulty breathing, often caused by inflamed airways.
  • Your eyes are inflamed.
  • You suspect the rash has affected your mouth or digestive tract.

Preventing contact dermatitis

If you know which product is causing the reaction, stop using it immediately and avoid future contact with it.

If you’re not sure what product is causing the outbreak stop using the products that you suspect might be causing the issue. Then, slowly reintroduce them into your routine one at a time to determine which product is causing the problem.

Dyshidrotic eczema is a type of eczema that can cause tiny, fluid-filled blisters on the palms of your hands, sides of your fingers, and soles of your feet.

Treating dyshidrotic eczema

If you have dyshidrotic eczema you should avoid scratching and seek medical attention. Your doctor may prescribe corticosteroids, phototherapy, immune-suppressing ointments, or botulinum toxin injections.

Preventing dyshidrotic eczema

Though the cause of dyshidrotic eczema is not known, there are certain risk factors associated with this type of eczema:

  • Pre-existing conditions: If you have atopic or contact dermatitis, you may develop this type of eczema. Taking steps to prevent eczema breakouts and contact dermatitis will lower your chances of developing dyshidrotic eczema.
  • Stress: Dyshidrosis occurs more often during times of emotional and physical stress. Managing your stress may help you prevent this type of eczema.
  • Irritants: Dyshidrosis can also be the result of exposure to metals such as cobalt and nickel. Avoid these metals as they may irritate your skin.

Nummular eczema is a condition that causes coin-shaped outbreaks of eczema, usually on the arms and legs. It more commonly affects middle-aged and older adults.

Treating nummular eczema

Fragrance-free moisturizers and corticosteroid creams can help soothe irritated skin. If symptoms are severe or are disrupting your daily routine, you should consult your doctor.

Preventing nummular eczema

Nummular eczema can be triggered by dry skin, emotional stress, and seasonal variation. Keeping skin moisturized and managing your stress may help prevent nummular eczema.

Investing in a humidifier and adjusting your thermostat may help your body cope with changes in the weather.

Contact with allergens may also trigger an outbreak of nummular eczema. Avoiding common allergens like nickel and cobalt or asking your doctor for an allergen patch test may help prevent this kind of eczema.

Seborrheic dermatitis is a kind of eczema that causes red, scaly skin and dandruff. This condition affects oily parts of the body, like the face, upper chest, and back.

Risk factors for seborrheic eczema

Your risk of getting seborrheic dermatitis may be increased if you have other conditions. These include:

  • congestive heart failure
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • HIV
  • acne, rosacea, or psoriasis
  • epilepsy
  • stroke or heart attack
  • alcoholism
  • depressions
  • eating disorders

Your risks of developing seborrheic dermatitis also increases if you take any of the following medications:

  • interferon
  • lithium
  • psoralen

Treating seborrheic eczema

Seborrheic eczema can be treated with fragrance-free moisturizers. Popular alternative therapies include adding tea tree oil to your shampoo, taking fish oil supplements, and applying aloe vera to breakouts.

You should see a doctor if:

  • The rash causes sleep loss or distracts you from your daily routine.
  • You think your skin may be infected.
  • Your skin feels painful.

See your doctor if the steps you have taken to prevent and treat the condition have not been successful.

Your doctor may suggest corticosteroid creams, lotions that affect your immune system like calcineurin inhibitors, or phototherapy.