Itching for Relief: Millions Suffer From Chronic Skin Condition |

Itching for Relief: Millions Suffer From Chronic Skin Condition

Itching for Relief: Millions Suffer From Chronic Skin Condition

More than 30 million Americans are living with atopic dermatitis, also known as eczema. Symptoms can be so severe and unrelenting that every day activities including sleep can be disrupted.

More than 30 million Americans live with red, dry skin that is often so itchy it disrupts their sleep and may even lead to infection.

This condition is atopic dermatitis – commonly known as eczema. According to the National Eczema Association, more than 10% of the U.S. population are living with eczema, including nearly 10 million children.

“Eczema is very common,” explains Matthew Muellenhoff, DO, dermatologist with SierraDerm in Grass Valley. “And while it is most common in childhood, it can also develop in adults. In my practice, I see a lot of adults with eczema. I have quite a few elderly patients that develop eczema from overly dry skin attributable to aging.”

Muellenhoff points out that eczema affects people of all skin color and ethnicity. One risk factor that can be common among eczema patients – allergies.

Matthew Muellenhoff, DO

“Eczema goes hand in hand with allergy,” Muellenhoff says. “These patients tend to have sensitivities to things in their environment which can flare their eczema. The cold, dry winters here in Nevada County can really be a challenge for these patients.”

Symptoms of eczema usually begin with itchy skin that then erupts in small pink to red bumps or patches of red scaly skin. The skin is usually excessively dry and flaky.

In kids this can happen on the face, arms, legs and trunk. Adults tend to erupt on the hands, arms and legs.

“The itching can be intense and patients are often sleep deprived on top of being uncomfortable during the day,” Muellenhoff says. “Because the itching is so intense, patients often need an oral antihistamine, which can also help with sleep as some antihistamines can make you drowsy.”

Because eczema can be a lifelong struggle, treatment typically includes both management strategies for when it flares and more preventative or maintenance therapies for when

it is stable.

“I generally try to manage eczema patients with topical therapies,” explains Muellenhoff. “That’s for many reasons, including simplicity, safety, and minimizing medication side effects.”

Muellenhoff says most patients can successfully manage their condition with special moisturizers designed for eczema and the periodic use of prescription topical steroids for flares.

Because eczema is an overactivity of the immune system, steroids can reduce the inflammation at the targeted area and relieve the symptoms of itch.

Muellenhoff says use of steroids requires a good partnership between patient and doctor.

“I don’t believe anyone really likes the idea of using steroids and it requires some coaching on proper and safe use. The advantage they offer is being predictably effective and inexpensive.”

For the most severe cases of eczema, there are “systemic” treatments, which include immune suppressing medication, as well as a biologic injectable agent that has revolutionized the management of moderate to severe eczema.

“In my practice, this medication has been life-changing for some of my worst cases,” Muellenhoff says.

To help reduce flare-ups, Muellenhoff also recommends moisturizing immediately after bathing.

“Bathing will hydrate the skin and the moisturizer will seal it in,” he says. “Immediately after the bath or shower, pat yourself dry then apply moisturizer everywhere you have dry skin or are prone to eczema.”

Dr. Mullenhoff points out that eczema patients are prone to secondary skin infections. This can can be a problem in itself but also flare the eczema as well.

“It is important to watch for signs of skin infection including oozing, developing blisters or lesions becoming more painful rather than itchy,” he explains. “Additionally, eczema patients need to be careful with the personal hygiene and household products they use. Try to use products that have simple formulations and avoid fragrances. For sunscreens, I recommend products with physical agents such as zinc or titanium. Lastly, give yourself the time you need. It may take an extra 20 minutes every day to put on creams but if you can and make it part of your regular routine you will likely manage the condition better and be much happier.”

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