Eczema is considered one of the most common skin conditions in the United States. According to the Cleveland Clinic, as many as 15 to 20% of kids and 1 to 3% adults develop eczema, which is also known as atopic dermatitis. It can occur at any time of year, though the fall and winter climates certainly don’t help.
But, for as widespread as it is, eczema remains a bit of a medical mystery. Which is why there isn’t a cure for it. However, there are plenty of treatment options. Finding the right one depends on the severity of the case.
Eczema is often described by dermatologists as being mild, moderate, or severe. Let’s take a closer look at what each level looks like and how it’s treated.
Eczema usually starts with an itchy area somewhere around where the skin folds or is exposed to the elements, including the face and hands. (But it’s certainly not limited to those spots.) When the itch is scratched, that’s when the telltale rash – often characterized by dry, red, cracked skin – can form.
The goal in treating mild eczema is to fortify the skin barrier with moisturizers and reduce inflammation by applying anti-inflammatory cortisone and non-cortisone cream to the affected areas. It’s also a good idea to keep showers to under five minutes and use lukewarm water.
Whereas mild eczema tends to remain fairly localized, moderate eczema often affects more of the body with severe itching, which can have a more significant impact on a person’s quality of life.
In turn, treating moderate eczema is also less targeted. You’ll want to apply a potent, unscented moisturizer all over, not just around breakouts. And while you may notice flakes on your skin, resist the urge to exfoliate. That’s because using manual scrubs or chemical exfoliators on skin whose barrier is already compromised will only lead to more dryness and irritation.
What your skin needs most is hydration. Using a humidifier is a useful tool in that regard.
At this level, eczema becomes about so much more than an itch or a rash. It can lead to inflamed skin that could become infected, depending on how injured the skin is.
Dermatologists will propose systemic medications that can provide some measure of relief, including topical corticosteroids and non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory topical medications. Newer treatments, such as light therapy, immunosuppressive medications, and biologic drugs, are also showing promise.
Even in its most severe form, dermatologists can usually keep eczema at bay. So, while there’s no cure for eczema, there are lots of effective strategies for helping to control it.