Got an itch? No matter how great the urge, leave it alone and ‘Don’t Scratch!’ How does that make you feel? Uncomfortable? Irritable? Angry? Now, imagine that itch was ten times as ‘itchy’ and was located in multiple parts of your body. How would that feel? How would you cope if you couldn’t scratch to relieve your suffering? It is one of the most frustrating things that eczema sufferers experience.
Eczema is a condition where patches of skin become inflamed, itchy, red, cracked, and rough. Scratching makes the condition worse and the skin becomes inflamed and reddened, aggravating the itch. This is called the ‘itch-scratch cycle’ of eczema and can become severe and can ever tear the skin apart. However, the short-term pleasure and sense of relief it gives to someone with eczema cannot be underestimated.
So, how can someone suffering from eczema control the itch? Unfortunately, eczema is, by its very nature, ‘itchy’ so you cannot alleviate the symptom completely. However, there are lots of things that make the itching worse which can be addressed.
Here are a few tips that can help you reduce the ‘itch’:
- Keep your fingernails short – longer nails are more likely to injure your skin when you scratch. Every time you feel the ‘itch’, apply a moisturizer.
- Bathe and moisturize every day - Take a bath using lukewarm (not hot) water for 5-10 minutes. Use a gentle cleanser (no soaps) and avoid scrubbing the affected skin. After bathing, pat the skin lightly with a towel leaving it slightly damp and then apply a moisturizer. Do not use a washcloth or loofah.
- Wash your clothes properly - Add a second rinse cycle to ensure the removal of soap from your clothes during each wash. Use a mild detergent that is dye-free and fragrance-free. Wash all new clothes before wearing them to remove formaldehyde and other potentially irritating chemicals.
- Wear garments that allow air to pass freely to your skin - Open-weave, loose-fitting, cotton-blend clothing may be most comfortable. Avoid wearing wool, polyester or acrylic.
- Work and sleep in comfortable surroundings - Try to maintain a fairly constant temperature and humidity level. Cooler temperatures are preferred but not so cool as to initiate chilling.
- Use sunscreen on a regular basis – People with eczema are more vulnerable to the sun’s damaging rays. Therefore, always use sunscreen with SPF 30 or above. Check the label for ‘broad spectrum’ protection from both ultraviolet (UVA) A and UVA B rays, alcohol-free, and mineral-based sunscreen ingredients Titanium Dioxide (TiO2) and Zinc Oxide (ZnO).
- Minimize stress - Anxiety, anger, and frustration are commonly experienced by people with a chronic disease like eczema and this stress can further aggravate itching. Manage your stress by adopting relaxation techniques such as breathing exercise, music, sharing, yoga, and meditation.
- Eliminate possible triggers – Eczema flare-ups can be prompted by triggers such as certain soaps, clothing fabrics, deodorants, carpet fibers, dust, and others. Sometimes a flare-up will occur, however, with no ‘visible’ trigger. Overheating, excessive sweating, low humidity, certain foods and stress can also contribute to eczema flare-ups. Therefore, try to manage your eczema triggers as much as possible. You can work with your doctor to know your eczema triggers.