Does eczema ever go away?
August 13, 2014 10:19 AM   Subscribe

I've been struggling with a few growing patches of eczema on my hand for about four months now, and it is really starting to have consequences for my quality of life. It's getting to the point where I'm becoming quite depressed and am starting to isolate myself from my normal social situations, and I can't partake in my favourite hobby (cooking) because of the way it causes my skin to flare up, no matter how careful I am. My questions are, will a moderate case of eczema clear up on its own spontaneously, and what else can I do to care for it?

I have tried the following to take care of it:

1) Protopic - my doctor prescribed this because I am unable to take topical steroids. It worked miraculously well but I've been using it for ten days, and I'll need to stop soon. I know from missing one dose that there will likely be a severe rebound reaction when I wean myself from it.
2) Moisturizers of all types - Some sting so much that I wonder if I've made a mistake. Others, like mayan magic, really relieve the sting and make me feel like I might be on the right track.
3) Diet - I've cut out beer. Next thing I will try is dairy (I've severely limited intake but will cut out even the milk in my coffee if I thought that will help) or gluten/flour.
4) Stress - I've tried to reduce stress in my life but the condition itself is quite stressful.
5) Hot showers - I remember what hot water feels like. I miss it somewhat.
6) Salty baths - always good for when it itches too much. I found a couple of spots that were peeking through on the inside of my elbows retreated for good after a salty bath, so it must be helpful?

The big thing I am worried about is the protopic rebound. I'd happily use it forever if it was safe, but I suspect it's not.

What are some other strategies that people use? Is there a light at the end of the tunnel?
posted by chrillsicka to Health & Fitness (31 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
I have eczema on my hands and I am going in for a blood test for food sensitivities today, because my doctor said that's the next step after topicals didn't do much. Apparently there are a lot of false positives, so the next step is elimination diet to see what may actually be a trigger. Eliminate everything that tested positive for at least 2 weeks, then add them back one at a time, 2 weeks for each, and see what happens with your skin. Ask your doctor if you can try to narrow down any dietary triggers in a similar manner.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 10:24 AM on August 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

This may not help you, but I was diagnosed with eczema on my feet about 18 months ago, and it was similarly constraining, depressing, and life-altering to an extremely negative degree. Finally in desperation I went to a new dermatologist, who diagnosed me not with eczema but with a T. mentagrophytes fungal infection. I just took the last pill of a course of systemic antifungals and my foot is almost completely better.
posted by KathrynT at 10:27 AM on August 13, 2014 [2 favorites]

The only thing that helped mine to heal up was crazy amounts of moisturizer - mostly very rich creams and oils. The Mayan Magic looks similar to creams I've used. I also would slather argan oil on my hands. Wearing cotton gloves with lots of cream and oil on underneath overnight also helped it heal, or at least, not get worse. If I knew I was doing an irritating activity, I'd put a layer of petroleum jelly over the eczema to protect it. No chores done with harsh soaps or cleaners without rubber gloves.

An elimination diet is also a great idea.

It took me close to a year to get it to fully clear.
posted by quince at 10:30 AM on August 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I've suffered from eczema on and off throughout my life. More seriously during my childhood and teenage years, but as an adult much less frequenct and less severe; there have been a few occurrences lasting a few days to a few months.
When I had eczema on my finger, I found that a combinations of these things helped me out:
1) Using gloves when washing dishes/cleaning
2) Changing my shampoo/conditioner and bar soap to more gentle/fragrance-free alternatives. (anecdotally, Dove sensitive skin was good, Pears and Irish Spring not good).
3) Moisturize with Aveeno Eczema cream.
4) If going swimming in a chlorine pool, shower and moisturize immediately afterwards.
The hand eczema eventually went away. It was not spontaneous but rather a gradual change (less irritated)

Also, in general, sweating and heat tends to make my eczema worse, so I also try to avoid being in the sun when there's a bad flare up.
posted by lucia_engel at 10:44 AM on August 13, 2014 [2 favorites]

I have it on the fingertips of my dominant hand, and generally what helps me is avoiding detergents and wearing gloves. Lots of soaps have sodium lauryl/laureth sulfates, which have been linked to skin irritation; to avoid them, I swapped out my soap and shampoo, and wear gloves when I wash the dishes. If you notice other stuff in the kitchen bothering your hands, you can get disposable kitchen gloves (latex-free if you need that) and wear them while you prep. As for moisturizers, the dermatologist I saw recommended Cera Ve; he seemed to think that Eucerin, which is fairly popular, wasn't very effective.

Those steps seem to keep it under control for the most part. I get flare-ups occasionally, and I just end up washing my hands less frequently and going through tons of moisturizer.
posted by backseatpilot at 10:46 AM on August 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

After two years of Dermatologist visits and various treatments from steroids to a vast #s of sample moisturizers etc. A sample of this (at the time) new Aveeno product was an immediate turning point. Within 2-3 weeks 95% cleared up and over a few months almost completely clear. It's been 2-3 years and occasionally a small flare up, but now I clear it up quickly. I can't recommend it enough. Of course, not everyone will have the same results, but read the reviews on Amazon. Many other people have had similar results. I hope you do as well.
posted by ScotsLament at 10:53 AM on August 13, 2014 [2 favorites]

Adding to my last post, be careful when trying different ointment/cream if you aren't up and up on your allergy profile. I had a horrible allergic reaction to a propolis-based ointment which claimed to help eczema. Instead of dealing with minor irritation of eczema I ended up dealing with large angry, itchy red welts for weeks.
posted by lucia_engel at 10:58 AM on August 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

For me, stress is definitely the trigger and I know how awful it is to be in that cycle of stress > eczema > stress from eczema.

I haven't tried the Aveeno eczema lotion but their products with colloidal oatmeal really helped me. The other thing I used was just plain petroleum jelly to moisturize. Especially at night. There's nothing in it that your skin can react to and it makes a nice thick coat of moisture over your skin.
posted by entropyiswinning at 11:01 AM on August 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: My doctor has told me for years that there is no correlation between diet and eczema, but experience has taught me this is false. Once you clear the initial flare-up, you may be able to open up your diet again---I find with me there seems to be some sort if invisible ceiling where if I stay under it, I can eat almost anything and be fine, but if I reach the top, I will get a flare-up. Not always useful because you don't generally know you have hit the ceiling until after you have done so, but it does mean I can eat even 'forbidden' foods once in awhile and be fine.

I used to get it behind my knees and elbows (the classic childhood pattern) and now get it on my fingers and hands. Over time, I have found that a simpler diet of basic foods prepared without a lot of ingredients is better for both my eczema and my weak stomach than one high in prepared foods. There is too much potential in prepared foods for hidden triggers. I saw a wrap the other day at Starbucks that advertised itself as 'black beans, corn, quinoa and roasted vegetables' and had over 40 listed ingredients! No, no, no. Stay away.

I got allergy tested, and reacted to corn, flax, green beans and certain tree nuts when tested in isolation and not in a mix. Experience has further taught me that limiting wheat stuff to once a day, and avoiding all dairy has helped significantly. The two big triggers for me are the corn and the dairy, and they both hide in things. I had to give up all fancy coffee shop drinks because the syrups all gave me reactions, probably from hidden corn syrup. I have also experimented with non-cow dairy and can tolerate a little but not too much. Right now, I am trying to clear a flare-up and am avoiding any dairy at all. My finger is healing, but slowly.

Short version: yes, diet matters, but you'll need to experiment to find out what your individual triggers are. Mine are corn and dairy, and I do better when I limit the wheat. Memail me if you want more info.
posted by JoannaC at 11:05 AM on August 13, 2014 [2 favorites]

I don't have ezcema but I have super sensitive skin and some serious irritations that put me in an anxiety loop. The anxiety/stress causes the issues to get worse, which causes more anxiety...etc. You might want to look into attacking the mental health side effects (temporarily taking anti-depressants, etc) to short-circut the loop which could help relieve the ezcema.

As recommended by lucia_engel - If you haven't already cut out use of scented products, do so now. All soaps, lotions, personal products, etc. should be "unscented" or "fragrance-free." Nothing with "parfum" or "fragrance" in the ingredients. Beware a lot of the "natural" products actually have fragrance and other irritants. Overall reduction of irritants/allergens really helps.
posted by radioamy at 11:14 AM on August 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

After my 2nd pregnancy I got eczema on my right hand, my dominate hand. It's not 100%, but I've managed to get it to a reasonable level without steroids. I cook, I take hot showers, I do dishes (without gloves, but it would be better for me if I ever remembered to put them on). It is still more sensitive to heat that the left (unaffected) hand, but it works.

What I do: Every night I put on a thick lotion. What's worked best for me is the Eucerin original tub of lotion. It is super thick. Sometime I use the Eucerin eczema lotion, or the intensive repair hand lotion, but they aren't as good as the thick original cream stuff. I think apply the lighter lotions (the intensive repair hand lotion or the eczema lotion) throughout the day, anytime my hands feel dry, and more frequently if I have a flare up. That's actually pretty much it. Sometimes the lotions sting a bit but it is short lived and I've never had it from the original Eucerin. The other tips I got were to use gloves whenever cleaning things, and it is better if I do that, but the lotion every night, no matter what.
posted by katers890 at 11:18 AM on August 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

I had severe eczema on the palms of my hands in my early 20s, and the only thing that finally worked for me was Cyclocort cream prescribed by a locum covering for my usual doctor. It was miraculous.

I still have small patches from time to time, but nothing severe.
posted by misseva at 11:25 AM on August 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

Acidic foods like citrus and tomatoes are things we avoid for eczema flair ups. And Vanicream seems to help sooth the skin and keep it moisturized.
posted by jillithd at 12:13 PM on August 13, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'm a weirdo that goes through phases of eating the same thing for like 2 weeks. A few weeks ago, I got into a frenzy of making an Asian spicy sesame everything. I also started having BIG flareups of itchy, painful eczema on my calves. It took me a few weeks to realize it was probably the soy sauce I was adding - apparently soy is a common eczema trigger? I've had soy many times in the past without problems, but as soon as I threw away the leftovers and stopped eating it, the patches stopped getting inflamed. Like within 24 hours. It was amazing. But then again we have all kinds of weird skin allergy issues in my family, and something new always pops up :-\

I've been glooping on Eucerin Ultra Healing Cream after showers, and slathering Neosporin at night (which has always helped with other dryness issues), and the patches are slowly but positively getting much, much better.

I wish you luck (and completely empathize) :-\
posted by raztaj at 12:19 PM on August 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

When I was a child, I had two bouts of severe eczema that covered an entire arm and leg, respectively. I tried all sorts of topical steroids that didn't do much. Eventually I found a cream that I still swear by, Gentle Naturals Baby Eczema Cream. It may sting at first (especially if you have any open wounds), but I think that's partially because of the severe dehydration of the skin and should subside in under a minute. Since then, I will periodically get small patches on my arms and legs. I've never noticed a connection with diet. For me, it is seasonal. As the weather gets extreme (very hot and humid or super cold and dry), it tends to flare up more, but these patches are more of an annoyance than anything else. For me, this cream reduces redness and itching, and is usually enough to make patches go away within a few days.

More recently, I've developed what I think is Dyshidrotic Eczema, which causes small itchy blisters on my fingers. I can empathize with your concerns about quality of life, because this outbreak is much more visible and painful when the blisters pop. The cream hasn't been as quick a fix for this, but it still removes the itching. Consistent use of it, especially after cooking, contact with water, etc. seems to be doing the trick.

My biggest advice is to never, never scratch. Breaking the skin will only require a longer time to heal. Moisturize periodically, but especially when you exposure your hands to something that would dehydrate your skin.
posted by C'est la D.C. at 1:56 PM on August 13, 2014

I developed eczema on my hands recently as well! So fun, with the midnight itching and the oozing palms, right? To answer your question, I don't know if eczema ever goes away entirely, but you can definitely reduce the symptoms. Here is what I have discovered:

1). Do the dishes wearing dish gloves. They are cheap and moderately durable. This is one of the very best things I started doing.
2). Scalding hot water can feel almost orgasmically wonderful on your hands, but hot water is bad news! Don't do it, it will damage your skin more.
3). I was not having the best of luck with the topical steroid prescribed by my doctor, but then I realized that the medication was not being absorbed properly because my skin was so thick and flaky. I used a really really mild oil-based salt scrub on my hands to get rid of some of the thick dead skin, and then used the medication after I dried my hands. It made a big difference. But if you go this route, be really careful not to hurt yourself. Use the scrub maybe once a week, not all the time. I don't know if this is useful advice for all eczema sufferers, but it helped me.
4). Eucerin and Curel eczema creams are fantastic.
5). If you scratch yourself in your sleep, cover your hands with socks or gloves.
posted by zoetrope at 1:58 PM on August 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

Oh, and one more thing. I have noticed if my bedroom is hot at all at night, I will sweat, which makes the eczema a million times worse. See how your sleeping environment is, and try to make it as clean and cool as possible.
posted by zoetrope at 2:00 PM on August 13, 2014

I noticed instantaneous, severe outbreaks of eczema on my hands after making lemonade; to a lesser degree, I break out when I chop tomatoes. So I avoid acidic substances directly on my hands.

And I've recently developed dyshidrotic eczema on the soles of my feet, in addition to the hand eczema. The best I can do, outside of a steroid cream, is to keep the bottoms of my feet as clean as possible and protect the raw skin from infectants. New Skin is one of the best products ever ever ever for protecting wounds like this; it smells very chemically strong, but it seems to dry up the blistery spots and protect the open ones. Good luck.
posted by magdalemon at 2:15 PM on August 13, 2014

Like other commenters, I also suffer from dyshidrotic eczema, and steroid cream works a treat. But I can't/won't use it much as doctors won't prescribe it over and over, it's really just a nuclear-option quick fix.

However, I managed to establish that it's quite specifically chocolate (nope, not dairy, oddly) that causes it.. so just wanted to add a data point that it can be the most ridiculous of things sometimes (this actress appears to have the same problem). As it is, I like chocolate enough to eat at a level where the eczema is still present but not too annoying, but I should probably give up at some point..
posted by wackybrit at 2:48 PM on August 13, 2014

Another idea, to help regulate moisture, is to apply a bandage over the eczema once you apply the cream, moisturizer, what have you. I've used generic adhesive strips or porous bandages to allow more breathing. This will keep your skin from drying out again too quickly, prevents scratching, and prevents a lot of minor irritation that would make you want to scratch.
posted by C'est la D.C. at 2:59 PM on August 13, 2014

Neosporin Eczema Essentials Daily Moisturizing Cream is the only thing that has worked for me. I've tried a ton of different moisturizers and this cleared up a bad outbreak on my arms from my wrists up to my shoulders in only a few days. No idea why this one works for me, it just does. Maybe give it a try?
posted by dinofuzz at 3:13 PM on August 13, 2014

This all looks like a massive YMMV thread but I'll throw another suggestion in just in case it works for someone else... Mountain Ocean Skin Trip Coconut moisturiser. They also make soap; we bought ours at Whole Foods.

It's the only thing that clears up the eczema all over my hubby's buzzed scalp... I can tell when we've run out! He used straight coconut oil for a while and it was OK, the moisturiser is way better (?).
posted by jrobin276 at 3:51 PM on August 13, 2014

There is evidence that people suffering from excema often have a mild staff infection that exacerbates and prolongs the chip dilution. Studies have shown that bathing in a weak bleach solution can be effective in addressing this. Anecdotally that approach had been helpful, though not a miracle, for me. I'm on my phone but googling should bring up the info.
posted by smoke at 3:54 PM on August 13, 2014

For me, corn = eczema. YMMV.
posted by kate blank at 3:59 PM on August 13, 2014

Uh that should be condition not chip dilution.
posted by smoke at 4:04 PM on August 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

Regarding hand creams - If it stings, don't use it. When my hands are really bad, before bed I will slather my hands in a thick cream and put them in clean socks to sleep in.
posted by lizbunny at 4:36 PM on August 13, 2014

I think you should discuss long-term treatment options with your dermatologist. If your current one actually said "I'll prescribe X, but X is unsafe to use for >10 days. After then, you're on your own.", I suggest you look for a new doctor.

I'm saying this as someone who has tried (and spent a good amount of $ on) a pretty large number of "natural" eczema remedies to no avail. For me, certain irritants (soaps/detergents) definitely cause hand flare ups, but removing all of them does not mean that flare ups can be 100% prevented.
posted by yonglin at 4:56 PM on August 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

A barrier cream (Gloves in a Bottle is one) fixed up my awful, annoying eczema more or less permanently. I tried it based on research that I read on Science Daily (after my doctor basically gave up and said "try to reduce stress," lol).
posted by wintersweet at 7:34 PM on August 13, 2014

Seconding the mention upthread of Cerave cream. My partner and a good friend of ours both have eczema, and taking a bath or shower immediately followed by using Cerave cream has really toned down the itching for both of them. Best of luck.
posted by brackish.line at 9:41 AM on August 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

Seconding elimination of sulfates/SLS. If I use those, I get eczema AND hives. I have to use sulfate free detergent, soaps, shampoos, conditioners, etc. I also had to wash my laundry in vinegar to get rid of residual SLS, ugh.

Taking actual flaxseed oil (not capsules) helped me too.
posted by Ms. Moonlight at 9:42 AM on August 14, 2014

Also, this is not exactly a direct and practical remedy, but hopefully there will be new and more effective treatments available as research interest in chronic itch grows (NYT).
posted by brackish.line at 9:44 AM on August 14, 2014

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