Eczema treatment & management

Eczema describes a group of conditions that make your skin dry, irritated, itchy, red and cracked. Atopic eczema is the most common type of eczema. The condition can affect people of any age, but it tends to be more common in children and often run in families.

People with atopic eczema usually go through periods when their symptoms improve, as well as other periods when these are more severe (flare-ups). While the exact cause is unknown, there are a number of factors that may trigger an episode of atopic eczema:

• Irritants, such as soaps and detergents

• Allergens such as house dust mites, pollen, mould or pet hair

• Particular fabrics, such as wool or synthetic materials

• Particular foods

• Changes in the weather – for example extreme heat or cold

• Some people find that stress makes their symptoms worse

• Some women find their symptoms fluctuates with their menstrual cycle


Atopic eczema treatments

There's no cure for atopic eczema but there are a number of things you can do to help reduce and manage the symptoms:

Identifying and avoiding triggers

You may find your eczema is made worse by  irritants, certain fabrics, foods or environmental triggers such as pet hair or pollen. It's best to avoid these triggers as much as you can.

Avoiding scratching

Atopic eczema can be very itchy and resisting the urge to scratch can be hard. However, scratching can damage your skin further and cause your eczema to worsen. It can also lead to the skin becoming thickened and leathery and increases the risk of infection.

Instead of scratching you can try to gently rub the surface of your skin with clean fingertips. Keeping your nails short and covering the skin with light clothing can also reduce damage from scratching. If your baby or child has atopic eczema, anti-scratch mittens can help. 

Emollients

If you have atopic eczema, you may find your skin is drier than most people's, making it more vulnerable to irritation. Emollients are moisturising treatments you use daily (these should be used at least twice a day) to help soothe and hydrate the skin. They're available in a range of thicknesses and formats including lotions, ointments, sprays and creams. Your pharmacist can advise you on which emollient might be suitable for you.

If you have atopic eczema, it’s important to use an emollient every day, even if you’re not having any symptoms. As well as making the skin less dry, this can help reduce the number of flare-ups you might have.

Topical corticosteroids

For flare-up, your GP may prescribe topical corticosteroids, which are applied directly to the skin. This can help reduce irritation and inflammation within few days. corticosteroids have different strengths and are available in a range of formats including creams, sprays and ointments. Depending on the severity of your symptoms and the areas affected, your GP will advise you on which one you need to use and for how long. Make sure you follow your doctor’s instructions and read the patient information leaflet which comes with the medicine.

When using topical corticosteroids, you should continue using your regular emollient. You can apply the emollient first and wait around 30 minutes before applying the steroid, or apply the steroid at a different time of the day. Be sure to carry on using the topical steroid for 48 hours after the flare up has cleared, unless told otherwise by your doctor.


Next steps 

• Visit your GP if you have symptoms of atopic eczema

• If you have atopic eczema, you should avoid triggers and take measures to reduce scratching

• Be sure to use an emollient regularly, at least twice a day, even if you’re not experiencing any symptoms 

• Topical corticosteroids are used to help reduce swelling, redness and itching during flare-ups. Your GP will advise you on which one to use and for how long