Sorting out truth from fiction about this common skin condition can be the first step to finding relief.
Thinking of eczema as a skin condition that involves redness, irritation, and itchiness barely begins to, well, scratch the surface on this complex inflammatory disease.
More than 31 million Americans suffer from the condition, according to the National Eczema Association. "Eczema" is actually an umbrella term for a whole group of inflammatory skin conditions. The most common form is atopic dermatitis, also called atopic eczema.
The idea that eczema is “just a rash” isn’t the only misconception about the disease, says Dina Strachan, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist and director of Aglow Dermatology in New York City. She is also an assistant clinical professor of dermatology at New York University.
Below, we asked Dr. Strachan to take on six frequently heard myths and point you instead to the facts. Getting your information straight can be the first step on the path to the right treatment.
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Myth #1: Eczema Is a Childhood Disease
The facts: Actually, while it’s true that 80 percent of those who have atopic dermatitis, develop it by age six, this type of eczema can show up much later in life. In fact, a significant portion of Americans — 25 percent of them — report having their atopic dermatitis first show up in adulthood.
Myth #2: Eczema Is Basically Dry Skin, Maybe a Rash
The facts: To the contrary, eczema is a complex inflammatory skin disease that causes severe itching, redness, dry skin and sometimes scaly rashes.
Dr. Strachan notes that there are other lesser-known eczema symptoms, including:
- It makes skin sensitive and very dry
- It can cause changes in skin color
- It can be very painful, resulting in blisters and oozing sores
Eczema also can be unsightly, difficult to hide, and very uncomfortable, she adds. It may show up on awkward or exposed places such as your scalp, hands, feet, eyelids, elbow creases, upper chest, and between your fingers and toes.
Myth #3: Eczema Is Contagious
The facts: A little bit of good news about eczema is that it can’t be passed through person-to-person contact.
However, having eczema can make you more susceptible to developing a skin infection that you can transmit to others. Itching is one of the main symptoms of eczema, and heavy scratching can cause skin to break or crack, leaving an opening for outside germs to enter the body.
Myth #4: Eczema Only Affects You Physically
The facts: Having eczema can affect your mental health and emotional well-being. Adults with atopic eczema have a 2.5 to 3-fold higher risk for anxiety and depression, according to the National Eczema Association.
The organization also reports that up to 50 percent of eczema patients avoid social interactions because of their appearance. And 33 percent of adults and their partners say their atopic eczema interferes with their sexual health and their ability to establish relationships.
Myth #5: Atopic Dermatitis Will Go Away on Its Own
The facts: Although many cases of atopic dermatitis in children resolve on their own, for everyone else, eczema is typically a chronic condition.
It can crop up and then go into remission over periods of time. Ignoring it when you get an outbreak and not seeking any kind of relief or treatment allows eczema to easily spiral out of control and become more severe.
Myth #6: Eczema Can Be Cured
The facts: Unfortunately, there’s no cure for eczema, but it can be managed and treated in a variety of ways. Some treatments include:
- Over-the-counter or prescription topical medications
- Oral immunosuppressants
- Light therapy
It also helps to know and avoid potential eczema triggers. These can include:
- Heavy, scratchy or non-breathable fabrics like wool, nylon and polyester
- Dry air
- Environmental allergens such as dust, pollen, grasses, and mold
- Extreme cold and hot temperatures
- Food allergies
- Fragranced products
What You Can Do to Manage Eczema
For her patients with eczema, Dr. Strachan says she encourages them to take a few daily steps to try and keep symptoms at bay.
- Take short, warm showers. “While hot water temporarily soothes itching from eczema, it further dries skin which makes eczema worse,” Dr. Strachan says.
- Moisturize while skin is still damp. Skin is more permeable when it’s slightly damp, so take advantage of that window to help lock in the nourishing ingredients of your moisturizer.
- Check the product label. Ask your dermatologist or allergist for recommendations that are right for you. In general, she says, look for the words “hypoallergenic” and “fragrance-free” on the label.
- Make a switch with the seasons. “Lotions are good for warmer weather. In the winter one might want to use cream or ointments,” she says.
- Use a humidifier and air purifier. If your eczema is triggered by environmental allergies, consider using both devices in your home. And do your best to keep dust from collecting in the areas of your home where you spend the most time.
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See our sources:
Eczema stats: National Eczema Association
Diagnosis and treatment of atopic dermatitis: NIH, National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases
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