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‘Cold, dry’ weather can trigger eczema – how to reduce skin damage

Eczema: Dr Ranj provides tips for treating condition

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Eczema is a fairly common inflammatory skin condition that can begin at any stage in life, although it is more frequently found in children. Sufferers will experience patches of extremely dry and itchy skin that can bleed and become infected. As it can become more aggravated by cold weather it is worth bearing in mind ways to look after your skin over the winter.

The most common form of eczema, which refers to a group of conditions that cause itchy and dry skin, is atopic eczema.

This can affect any part of the body, but is often found on the hands, insides of the elbows, backs of the knees and the face and scalp.

People with the condition will experience periods when symptoms are milder as well as times when they become more serious.

According to the NHS, for a diagnosis of atopic eczema you should have had an itchy skin condition in the last 12 months.

You should also have three or more of the following:

  • Visibly irritated red skin in the creases of your skin – such as the insides of your elbows or behind your knees at the time of examination
  • A history of skin irritation occurring in the same areas mentioned above
  • Generally dry skin in the last 12 months
  • A history of asthma or hay fever – children under four must have an immediate relative, such as a parent, brother or sister, who has one of these conditions
  • The condition started before the age of two (this does not apply to children under the age of four).

It is not known exactly what causes atopic eczema, although it usually occurs in people with allergies and can run in families.

And it often develops alongside other conditions like hay fever and asthma.

There are a number of steps you can take to try to reduce the effects of atopic eczema on your skin as suggested by the NHS, including minimising the damage caused by scratching.

“Eczema is often itchy, and it can be very tempting to scratch the affected areas of skin,” the NHS says.

“But scratching usually damages the skin, which can itself cause more eczema to occur.

“The skin eventually thickens into leathery areas as a result of chronic scratching.

“Deep scratching also causes bleeding and increases the risk of your skin becoming infected or scarred.”

To prevent this it advises:

  • Gently rubbing your skin with your fingers instead of scratching
  • Using anti-scratch mittens on a baby or child to stop them scratching their skin.
  • Keeping your nails short and clean
  • Keep your skin covered with light clothing.

Preventing scratching was also endorsed by the National Eczema Association in the US.

“The first step to managing itchy skin is to reduce the risk of it happening in the first place,” it says.

“This can be done through a daily bathing and moisturising routine and using prescription medications as prescribed.

“Wet wrap therapy also helps control itch. Outside of bathing, apply moisturisers or lotions that replenish the skin barrier you have consistently and liberally throughout the day.

“Always wear sunscreen when in the sun as well as sunburn can make itchy skin from eczema worse. Avoid products that include added fragrances.”

The association states one trigger of eczema is climate, and specifically “cold, dry weather” or a “change in season”.

To minimise the effects of eczema, the NHS also recommends:

  • Avoiding known triggers such as heat and certain soaps
  • Cutting out certain foods after speaking to your GP to see if it’s caused by a food allergy
  • Moisturisers and creams
  • Prescribed corticosteroids
  • Antihistamines
  • Bandages
  • Complementary therapies such as herbal remedies.

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