How is eczema treated?
Treatment of eczema depends on the symptoms (for example, dry skin is treated differently than oozing blisters) and the factors that trigger or worsen symptoms. No one treatment is best for all people. The goal of treatment is to reduce itching and discomfort and to prevent infection and additional flare-ups.
Treatment options include:
- Prevention: Preventing flare-ups is the best way to manage eczema. For that reason, it is important to try to identify and avoid symptom triggers, such as certain detergents or food allergens, and to moisturize the skin.
- Skin care: Keeping your skin moist is important, because itching increases when the skin is dry. Use a moisturizing cream or ointment. Lotions are less effective. It is important to keep skin moisturized by applying creams or ointments several times a day — including after bathing/showering while skin is still damp — to keep your skin moist. Use mild soaps and products that are free of perfumes, dyes, and alcohol. Look for products that are “fragrance-free,” “hypoallergenic,” and “for sensitive skin.” New products containing “ceramide” actually replace some of the “glue” that is missing in the skin of eczema patients and are the most effective moisturizers.
- Medications: Over-the-counter creams and ointments containing the steroid cortisone — such as hydrocortisone (Cortisone 10®) and hydrocortisone acetate (Cort-Aid®) — may be used to help control the itching, swelling, and redness associated with eczema. Stronger, prescription-strength steroid creams are also available. Steroid pills and shots may be used in the short term to get control of severe eczema, but long-term use of these is not recommended because of the possible side effects, which include high blood pressure, weight gain, and thinning of the skin.
Newer medications, called topical immunomodulators (TIMs), are showing progress in treating patients with moderate to severe eczema, particularly those patients who do not respond to traditional treatment. TIMs — such as tacrolimus (Protopic®) and pimecrolimus (Elidel) — work by modulating (changing) the body's immune response to allergens. TIMs also have fewer side effects than steroids. The most common side effect reported with tacrolimus is a temporary stinging or burning sensation that generally improves after a few days of use.
Other medications that might be used for patients with eczema include antibiotics if the skin becomes infected, and antihistamines to help control itching. Some patients with severe eczema may require oral immunomodulatory or immunosuppressant medications to control their skin disease.
- Phototherapy: The ultraviolet light waves found in sunlight have been shown to help certain skin disorders, including eczema. Phototherapy uses ultraviolet light, usually ultraviolet B (UVB), from special lamps to treat people who have severe eczema.
What complications are associated with eczema?
- Scratching or rubbing itchy areas can break the skin, allowing bacteria to enter and cause infection.
- Scars can form when the skin is damaged from continued scratching.
- Very itchy eczema can disturb sleep.
- Some people with eczema avoid social activities because they are uncomfortable and/or self-conscious.
- In persons with darker skin, inflammation from eczema may leave dark marks that linger for months.
Can eczema be cured?
Currently, there is no cure for eczema. However, proper treatment and good skin care can often control or minimize symptoms.