Eczema (atopic dermatitis) is a type of chronic skin condition characterized by red- to violet-colored skin, scaliness, and sometimes dryness. While considered an inflammatory condition, it’s also estimated that half of people with moderate to severe cases also have hay fever, food allergies, or asthma.
Itchiness is the most common symptom of eczema. Yet, you may still wonder why your skin itches and whether there’s anything you can do to find long-term relief.
Read on to learn more about why eczema itches, your treatment options, and more.
Eczema is a complex inflammatory condition with no one single cause. However,
Changes within certain nerves in the upper layer of your skin, called C fibers, may also be a cause of eczema. These changes may increase skin sensitivity, making you more prone to itching and scratching. As your condition progresses, you may even scratch your skin without realizing it.
Feeling itchy from eczema can come and go, and some rashes are more intense than others. If the itchiness is quite intense, it may keep you up at night, leading to sleeplessness and daytime fatigue.
Eczema doesn’t have one single cause, but you may find that certain triggers can cause flare-ups, making your symptoms worse. While individual experiences vary, some triggers may include:
- cold, dry weather
- high humidity
- exercise and sweat
- hot water
- chlorine or salt water
- certain foods
Other flare-ups may result from:
- using fragrance-containing laundry detergents
- applying skin products with fragrances or preservatives
- wearing wool or synthetic fabrics
Soaking in an oatmeal bath may help alleviate eczema itch and discomfort. Use store-bought colloidal oatmeal and run it under lukewarm water. You may soak in the bath for 10 to 15 minutes at a time. Cool compresses can also help when applied throughout the day.
Applying a fragrance-free moisturizer can alleviate itchiness, but it may also help protect the skin barrier and ward off flare-ups. You can apply moisturizer throughout the day as needed. It’s important to use a skin moisturizer within a few minutes of bathing or swimming to lock in moisture immediately.
While these methods can help treat short-term eczema itching, you’ll also want to learn to manage long-term eczema itching. An effective eczema treatment plan is one that focuses on long-term management, not just treating flare-ups.
In the case of moderate to severe eczema, your doctor may recommend medications or other treatments. These may include a combination of:
- over-the-counter or prescription emollient creams
- topical corticosteroids
- light therapy (phototherapy)
- coal tar, a topical treatment
- topical calcineurin inhibitors (TCIs)
- crisaborole, a type of topical ointment
- oral or topical antihistamines
- oral or topical antibiotics for infections
- dupilumab (Dupixent) injections
Besides moisturizers and medications, you may be able to manage eczema and alleviate itchiness by making some simple lifestyle changes. Consider trying one or more of the following home remedies:
- bathing in lukewarm water for no longer than 5 to 10 minutes at a time
- switching to moisturizers that are fragrance-free or designed specifically to help with eczema, such as Eucerin and Aveeno
- applying moisturizer twice a day, and always after bathing
- using petroleum jelly or Aquaphor on severe rash areas
- replacing any soaps, cosmetics, and detergents with fragrance-free versions or those designed for sensitive skin
- avoiding extremely dry or hot and humid conditions whenever possible
- keeping your fingernails short to help prevent skin infections resulting from scratching
- wearing cotton gloves at night if you tend to scratch your skin during sleep
- wearing clothing made from cotton or other natural fibers instead of synthetic ones
- managing your allergies, if these are known triggers for your eczema
- practicing stress management techniques, such as deep breathing and visual imagery
Any eczema flare-up that doesn’t respond to your current treatment plan or home remedies should be evaluated by a doctor. They may also refer you to a dermatologist, a type of doctor that specializes in skin and hair diseases. An allergist or immunologist may also help.
Talk with your doctor if your eczema rashes are unusually painful or if you’ve developed any skin infections as a result of scratching. You should also see them if your eczema itch keeps you up at night and inhibits your ability to get good sleep.
Itchiness is a common complaint with eczema. When left untreated, the itch may interfere with your everyday life, and it may even increase your risk for infections due to scratching.
It’s important to talk with your doctor if eczema itch is interfering with sleep and other everyday activities. Moisturizers and topical medications can help treat and prevent eczema flare-ups, along with the itch that comes with them. There are also things you can do every day to help manage your condition.
When managed over the long term, you may find that you experience fewer eczema flare-ups. This can also help reduce itchiness, pain, and skin discoloration from rashes.
Talk with your doctor if your current treatment plan isn’t doing enough to help control your eczema flare-ups, or if the itchiness is getting progressively worse.