How do I nip eczema in the bud?
October 6, 2004 1:57 PM   Subscribe

Yes there have been other eczema questions. This one is about other things they don't address. [please come inside]

So I get really bad eczema from time to time (head to ass on the back, face, and both arms). I have identified dairy as a culprit, but because I really like cheese, I am naughty and eat some. If I keep it at a few times a month, I'm okay. But I pushed it, and now it's beginning: little rough spots on my arms, shoulders, face.

How do I nip it in the bud so I don't spend six months in total misery? I've got the oatmeal baths, the topical steroids, the hydrocortisone, the oral antihistamines. Is there anything else I can do?

Also, what do you do to take your mind off itching when you have already reduced it as much as possible? What do you think about or do when, say, you're at a bar, your shoulders are going crazy?

Dear Ask.Me, save me from despair.
posted by dame to Health & Fitness (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Banana Boat Sooth-a-Caine is aloe vera gel with topical analgesic that is made for sunburn but works on itchiness (I know someone who used it for this), and this cream worked well for her healing and smells good, despite the website looking like a run-of-the-mill miracle cream scam. Lastly, give tofu cheese a try. Admittedly, it's probably not going to set your world on fire, but you've got to get that cheese monkey off your back.
posted by planetkyoto at 4:59 PM on October 6, 2004

eczema sucks. all these are based on my own personal experience, so YMMV and all those other fancy-schmancy acronyms.
  • hot baths or showers encourage your body to release a lot of histamines; I've found that if you do this for a while you come out red as a beet and itchy, but it soon passes and you have up to a day's respite, which can sometimes be enough to let your body catch up and repair the skin.
  • get lots of sleep and cut down on stress. both sleep deprivation and times of stress add to eczema outbreaks (which then is its own stressor)
  • if you ever are embarassed about facial eczema and just want it to not be visible for a while, go get an asthma inhaler and spray a shot on your hand, mix with a dollop of lotion and then rub on. boom, it stings for a minute but it will disappear for a while (I sure bet someone will tell me this is a bad idea, but fuck that. I had to go through many job interviews in the last two years, and did not want to be remembered as the red-eyed freak).
  • a lot of fabric types can really irritate eczema, especially arm eczema. pay attention to what and avoid.

posted by norm at 5:33 PM on October 6, 2004

Response by poster: What fabric types have you noticed or have been noted to affect arm eczema? I think pretty much everything I own is a wonderfully inexpensive poly-cotton blend.
posted by dame at 8:26 PM on October 6, 2004

As an (at times very serious) eczema sufferer since birth I can tell you the following from my own exepriences:

Wool, or more precisely Lanolin (as found in lots of creams - E45 for example) sets me off, as do feathers.

Stress sets it off, so less stress the better.

Avoid hydrocortisone creams - they thin the skin and after a short while have no effect (at least for me). Nothing prescribed by a GP has had any long lasting effect on me.

The only treatment I have found effective is chinese medicine. I saw a doctor in London when my skin was at its worst and was prescribed a load of plants, chunks of bark, flowers etc which I had to brew up and drink twice a day. It tasted revolting but within 2 weeks I started seeing a difference. It didn't go away completely but in 4 weeks I was virtually clear. I've reused this on a couple of occasions when it's flared up but for the last 5 years i've been pretty much an eczema free zone. Highly recommended.
posted by jontyjago at 5:00 AM on October 7, 2004

Oh, and use non-bio or "Colour" washing powders....
posted by jontyjago at 5:01 AM on October 7, 2004

Avoid hydrocortisone creams - they thin the skin and after a short while have no effect (at least for me). Nothing prescribed by a GP has had any long lasting effect on me.

I agree, to a degree-- I have a tube of high powered stuff that I use for brief periods of time on the facial stuff (the worst for me is around the eyes, as I previously noted-- in fact, my eczema sometimes gets into the eyes itself, leading to a chronic pinkeye-like condition, that responds well to a combination steroid-antibiotic called Tobradex.).

  • Consider moving if it gets too bad. My eczema was the very worst when I lived in Portland, probably because (and this seems counter-intuitive) the climate was so moist. In drier Minnesota, it isn't so bad, and I find the dry/scaly/itchy eczema less annoying than the red/creeping/weeping form I had in Portland.
  • If you smoke, quit. I noticed it got a lot better after I did.
  • I agree, wool is right out. I found that polyester is bad too. Cotton (and most natural plant-based fibers) is generally ok, but be sure you don't do the bachelor trick of re-wearing clothes a lot when having trouble-- I found that tended to make things worse.
  • Sunbathe. Getting a little sun-kissed helps.
good luck.
posted by norm at 7:53 AM on October 7, 2004

Ditto on the sunbathing, it made a huge difference for me. Since I live in the Great White North, sunbathing doesn't work so well in the winter months when my eczema tends to flare up due to the fabrics I start to wear, but even a 10 minute session in a tanning booth once a week really helps.

Using a hemp based cream on rough parts like elbows and knees regularly seems to prevent flare-ups for me on those parts. Not sure why other than the fact that those areas are constantly dry and scratchy, so I think my eczema may be a result of my incessant scratching of dry skin as opposed to an external factor like it is on my shins, lower back and the backs of my legs.
posted by Cyrie at 8:08 AM on October 7, 2004

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone. I've been inspired to do laundry today and added another reason to my "why to quit smoking" list. And that cream looks interesting yet sketchy I will admit.
posted by dame at 10:08 AM on October 7, 2004

I can usually resolve the itching with a couple of ibuprofen. They tend to reduce swelling, and, for me, that swelling (at very small levels) is what causes the itching. Be aware that ibuprofen taken in large quantities and over long periods can have an immunosuppressive effect, so make sure to follow the directions on the bottle, same as if you had a headache.

More general preventative advice which works for me is below. My allergies cause my eczema and asthma, so my advice deal is not all eczema-specific.

--Cetaphil lotion or its generic equivalent will keep eczema properly humid, prevent it from looking disgusting, and keep the flaky bits from catching on clothes or from being too tempting to pick at. I keep a bottle at work, a bottle under the bed (so it's the last thing I do before I got to sleep), and one in the daypack I carry around a lot. Two hours of dry hands in the movie theatre because I forgot lotion is enough to make the eczema on my hands worse for days.

--Eat less but eat more varied foods. There may be things besides milk which are setting you off. Easier than process of elimination is just to eat (and drink) everything in very conservative moderation. Fewer of the unknowns will waylay you.

--Use fragrance-free everything: laundry soap, dish soap, hand soap (I use Pear's), deodorant, house-cleaning products. Ask your family or coworkers not to wear perfumes or colognes. Don't enter Macy's by the Sixth Avenue entrance, but from Seventh Avenue so you won't have to walk through the cosmetics department. Don't burn candles. Get rid of potpourri, room deodorizers, car deodorizers, scented candles, decorative soaps, etc.

--Wash the sheets every week, the blankets and bed covers once a month. Change towels every day or two.

--Keep the windows closed when you can, or open only a little bit. This works for me because I live in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, which has a high asthma rate due to high levels of pollution. Keeping the windows closed also makes the apartment easier to clean

--Keep your home clean! Last week I used my roommate's new HEPA vaccuum, then washed the floor with Murphy's Oil Soap. Besides the joy of a silky clean wooden floor, my allergies, asthma, and eczema are as good as they've been in five years. I changed the floor-cleaning water five times: it was dark grey, which you never could tell by looking at the floor before (it just looked a little dull). That blackness are the airborne irritants which set me off, apparently.

--Throw out moldy food in the refrigerator immediately. Resolve any household mold or mildew situations. Don't let the shower curtain get nasty.

--Use an airfilter. I have a high-powered unit we got free after Sept. 11th. It works tremendously well, is fairly quiet (or at least its noise output is white and no disruptive), and seems to do a great job.

My biggest problem, though, is currently unresolvable, short of moving (as recommended above): my roommate has two sweet kitties whose allergic effects are barely held at bay by antihistamines and I have a really, really great rent deal that, short of moving to bumfuck Queens (that is, waaaay far on the edges of New York City), I would never be able to duplicate, besides the worse neighborhoods and bad commutes out there.
posted by Mo Nickels at 11:45 AM on October 7, 2004

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