Things You Can Do To Improve Your Eczema Symptoms

Of all the skin conditions you can suffer from, eczema is probably one of the most frustrating. Not only is it a very visible condition, especially when you're having a flare-up, but it can also be triggered by a myriad of things. The fact that it's accompanied by chronic itching also doesn't help matters.

So, what exactly is eczema? Well, first of all, it's important to know that eczema is an inflammatory skin condition. It is seen as a form of dermatitis and affects the skin barrier. Thanks to the damage it causes, the skin barrier can't hold onto moisture as well as it should and becomes less effective at keeping out environmental elements that can cause skin irritation and infection. There are different types of eczema, but Medical News Today reports that atopic dermatitis is the most common form, affecting roughly 30% of people living in the United States. Adolescents and children are more prone to developing this skin condition. 

Other types of eczema include contact dermatitis, neurodermatitis, seborrheic dermatitis, nummular eczema, and dyshidrotic eczema. You can have more than one type of eczema at a time. Telltale signs that you might suffer from eczema typically include bumpy, dry, and itchy skin. You might also suffer from rashes, flaky or crusty skin, and even swelling. While eczema sucks, there are things you can do to help improve and manage your symptoms. Read on for the best tips and tricks to keep your skin in tip-top shape.

Incorporate some relaxation exercises into your daily routine

It's probably not much of a surprise that stress is a common trigger of eczema symptoms. Doctors still haven't managed to figure out the exact relationship between stress and eczema, but they theorize that stress can trigger inflammation in the body (via Healthline). This is why you might notice symptoms worsening or appearing when you're feeling particularly stressed.

Luckily, there are relaxation exercises you can do to tackle stress head-on. For example, doing some form of exercise every day and trying mindfulness exercises like yoga and meditation are great ways to tackle stress. Tai chi is another great option. If you're feeling particularly stressed during the day, you can also try deep breathing to help your mind and body calm down. Visualization exercises and music therapy are also great options. You can also consider biofeedback therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, and even hypnosis to help manage stress and anxiety. Getting enough sleep can also help to reduce stress.

While relaxation exercises might seem like a stretch for helping with eczema symptoms, the National Eczema Association reports that a study was conducted to look at the efficacy meditation has on eczema patients' itching symptoms, and the results were pretty awesome. The participants ended up experiencing less severe itching while they were attending a meditation class and found that they could handle stressful situations better. They also found that their sleep improved. Meditation didn't cure the study participants' eczema, but it helped them feel more in control of their symptoms.

Consider taking vitamin D supplements

It's true that chugging a handful of supplements every day likely won't improve your eczema, but bear with us. According to Medical News Today, vitamin D is responsible for helping the immune system to function optimally. It makes sense, then, that a lack of it might lead to eczema symptoms for some. Various studies have been conducted to look at the link between vitamin D deficiency and eczema, and the findings are interesting. A 2015 study review published in the Journal of Clinical Medicine found that vitamin D plays a big role in ensuring the skin barrier functions optimally. It can also help prevent skin from becoming inflamed. Researchers found that people who live in regions with less sunlight appear to be more prone to developing eczema. The same goes for people who have darker skin. A 2018 systematic review published in Pediatric Dermatology found that 67% of participants saw an improvement in their eczema symptoms after they started taking a vitamin D supplement.

If you think a lack of vitamin D might be to blame for your eczema symptoms, let your doctor test your levels. If you need vitamin D supplements, it's crucial you don't overdo it. Adults only need between 15 and 50 micrograms a day, according to the Office of Dietary Supplements. Spending some time in the sun and adjusting your diet is another option, according to Medical News Today. Include foods like mushrooms, free-range egg yolks, and oily fish on your plate.

Try a colloidal oatmeal bath and moisturizer

If you're dying to relieve the itchiness caused by eczema, a colloidal oatmeal bath is just what the doctor ordered. Made from oats that are ground to a fine powder, colloidal oatmeal soothes inflamed skin (via Healthline). All you need to do is add the powder to your bath and soak in it for 10 to 15 minutes.

While bathing in powdered oats might seem like a bit of a crazy idea, studies actually back it up. "[S]tudies have shown that colloidal oatmeal may decrease itching in certain skin conditions, like atopic eczema [also referred to as atopic dermatitis], and may increase moisturization of the skin," board-certified dermatologist Fayne L. Frey, M.D., told Prevention, adding that a study has found that applying an oat-based moisturizer can improve eczema symptoms by up to 50%! Furthermore, a 2015 study published in the Journal of Drugs and Dermatology concluded that colloidal oatmeal also works wonders to help heal skin that is scaly, rough, dry, and red — something everyone who suffers from eczema needs.

We've already noted that eczema has an adverse effect on the skin barrier, and colloidal oat moisturizers can help repair this delicate barrier, kicking symptoms to the curb. A 2018 clinical trial found in the U.S. National Library of Medicine discovered that, along with improving the skin barrier, applying a moisturizer containing oatmeal can give skin a moisture boost while also improving its pH. Sweet!

Acupuncture treatments might help

If you had to ask someone what the worst part about having eczema is, they'll probably tell you that the constant itching wins every time. If you're finding it hard to keep yourself from scratching and picking at your skin, you could consider acupuncture treatments — yes, really!

For those who don't know, acupuncture consists of piercing specific areas of the body with very thin needles. While not a ton of research has been done on its efficacy, a 2015 systematic review published in Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine found that there was a significant difference in itching symptoms in participants who underwent acupuncture therapy as opposed to those who didn't receive the treatment. Researchers noted that acupuncture therapy might indeed be beneficial for the treatment of itchiness that results from eczema, but added that it's crucial more research be conducted on the subject.

One of the perks of acupuncture therapy is that it doesn't break the bank and also doesn't usually cause any side effects. You might also notice an improvement in your sleep, a reduction in stress, less pain, and relief from allergies. Of course, this treatment isn't for everyone, and you should check with your doctor before you opt for acupuncture, especially if you use certain medications like blood thinners. Some people find that acupuncture treatments trigger flare-ups or make existing eczema symptoms worse. Others don't have any reactions but don't find any relief from the treatment either.

You could opt for phototherapy

If your eczema is pretty severe and no medications you've taken have had the desired effect, phototherapy might be an option you want to consider, especially if your eczema is affecting large patches of your skin, according to the American Academy of Dermatology Association.

Phototherapy can improve swelling and redness associated with eczema, thanks to its ability to tackle inflammation. It also helps to reduce the constant itching caused by eczema and can give the body's vitamin D levels a boost (via Medical News Today). Phototherapy makes use of ultraviolet light that has the ability to alter the immune system, affecting the reactions in the body that causes inflammation in the first place. Basically, this therapy addresses the root of the problem, and the results show it — with regular treatments, some people's skin clears up entirely and they no longer need to apply topical medications as regularly, according to a 2021 study published in Clinical and Experimental Dermatology.

Phototherapy takes time to work, and you'll typically need to go for two to three treatments a week for a couple of months to see improvement. There are, of course, some risks associated with this treatment; you are subjecting your body to a form of UV light, after all. You might experience some stings and burns after the treatment as well as sensitive and red skin. In some rare cases, you can develop skin cancer, wrinkles, age spots, and acne-like breakouts.

Wet wrap therapy is also an option

Sometimes, eczema symptoms are pretty manageable, and other times it can feel like it's driving you insane. When you're experiencing intense itching and even pain, wet wrap therapy can work wonders. Not only will it soothe your skin while giving it a healthy dose of hydration, but it will also make the topical medications you apply work a lot harder, according to the National Eczema Association.

Wet wrap therapy is exactly what the name suggests: It consists of using warm water to dampen gauze or cloth and then wrapping it around eczema patches on the body. Next, you can wrap dry bandages around the damp ones and get dressed as usual. This treatment is best done overnight since the bandages need to be left on for a couple of hours, so opting to sleep with them makes the process much easier. You can use certain fabrics or clothes for wet wrapping, including gauze, clothes made from cotton, or a cotton wrap. If eczema only really bugs you on your hands and feet, using socks or gloves made from cotton will typically work best. You can wear food-grade plastic wrap or even vinyl gloves over the wet layers when you go to bed.

It is recommended you do wet wrapping after you bathed and applied your topical medications. The good news is that this treatment really works: the National Eczema Association reports that 70% of children who use wet wrap therapy as a treatment see an improvement in their eczema symptoms.

Try tea tree oil as a treatment

Most of us have tried tea tree oil to zap zits at least once in our lives, but this essential oil can also work wonders for eczema. A 2011 study published in the Archives of Dermatological Research found that tea tree oil is actually a much more effective treatment for eczema symptoms than some of the usual treatments like clobetasone butyrate ointments and zinc oxide. Another 2004 study published in the Deutsche Tierärztliche Wochenschrift that was conducted on animals found that tea tree oil is also an excellent remedy for itching.

Tea tree oil is such an effective treatment because it's chock-full of anti-inflammatory properties, which can help the skin recover from irritation, redness, and swelling. Tea tree oil also has antiseptic properties, which can help calm down irritated and sore skin. This nifty essential oil also works hard to keep infections at bay, thanks to its antifungal and antimicrobial properties. It also contains antioxidants, which can help prevent damage to the skin caused by free radicals.

All in all, this oil pretty much seems like a miracle worker, but always do a patch test first in case your skin has an adverse reaction. You also shouldn't apply undiluted tea tree oil straight to your skin. Aside from checking that the oil you buy is of high quality, you should also make sure to dilute it with a gentle and moisturizing carrier oil like jojoba, coconut, or sunflower oil.

Some types of honey could help relieve your symptoms

Thanks to honey's antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and antimicrobial properties, it can help bring down swelling and soothe itchy, irritated skin. Honey can work miracles to help repair a broken skin barrier and is a pretty great moisturizer, which means that it can help hydrate dry patches caused by eczema. As an added bonus, honey's viscosity can form a barrier around the delicate skin, preventing infections from entering the compromised skin barrier, according to Derm Collective. Not just any honey will do, though.

A small 2017 study published in Immunity, Inflammation and Disease found that Manuka honey specifically can help treat inflamed eczema lesions, but noted that more studies need to be conducted to prove this. Furthermore, a 2012 study published in the International Journal of Antimicrobial Agents found that Manuka honey inhibits the growth and spread of Staphylococcus aureus, a bacteria that usually accompanies eczema symptoms. So, while more research needs to be conducted, the results look promising.

If you want to try Manuka honey for yourself, Derm Collective cautions that you should make sure the honey you buy is 100% organic, raw, and unfiltered. Otherwise, you won't be reaping all the benefits. Check for some solid pieces in the honey, as this is a sign it's unfiltered. After doing a patch test, warm 2 tbsp of pure honey, apply a thin layer to the problem areas on the skin, leave for 20 minutes, and rinse off. Do this daily for the best results.

Opting for therapy can help you cope with symptoms

Since your emotional well-being can have a big impact on your eczema symptoms, therapy might be a great way to help prevent and ease the discomfort associated with this skin condition. Various studies have proven that therapy can make a difference.

A 2021 study published in Jama Dermatology looked at the difference online therapy made to people's eczema symptoms and found that receiving therapy for 12 weeks helped to keep eczema symptoms at bay. The best part is that this positive change lasted up to a year post-treatment. Participants experienced less depression, slept better, didn't deal with as much itching, and reported feeling less stressed. Looking at these results, therapy is definitely a treatment option to consider. There are various techniques therapists use to help their patients deal with eczema, which include meditation and mindfulness exercises as well as hypnotherapy.

You can also opt for less conventional forms of therapy, like music therapy. A 2020 study published in the Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology found that listening to music can help treat the chronic itching that accompanies eczema. What's even more interesting is that researchers found music therapy to be more effective at treating itchiness than traditional topical treatments. More research needs to be conducted to confirm whether music therapy works in the long term, however. But it might be worth a try, especially if chronic itching is one of your main concerns.

Ask your doctor if immunosuppressing drugs are an option

At its core, eczema is the result of a glitch in your immune system, which then causes inflammation that leads to the skin issues that accompany the condition, the National Eczema Association reports. If you've tried multiple treatments without success, you might want to consider discussing using immunosuppressing drugs with your doctor. You are likely to be prescribed these drugs if your eczema is pretty severe. Immunosuppressants are drugs that work to inhibit the function of the immune system to some extent, which leads to a decrease in eczema symptoms. This means itchiness will subside, which leads to less scratching and lesions. Your skin will receive a much-needed reprieve from inflammation and infection and have a chance to fully heal.

According to Medical News Today, the most common immunosuppressants prescribed for eczema are ciclosporin and methotrexate, and people often experience side effects like nausea, dizziness, high blood pressure, headaches, and liver problems. Luckily, researchers are constantly trying to develop more potent drugs with fewer side effects, and the latest drug, called etokimab, looks very promising, according to a 2019 research article published in Science Translational Medicine. In fact, 83% of participants' symptoms improved 29 days after receiving a dose of this treatment. Researchers also discovered that this drug seems to have the ability to reduce the immune cells that contribute to eczema. However, more research needs to be conducted before this treatment can become available to the public.

Apply the right topical medications and moisturizers when experiencing flare-ups

While eczema can be a literal pain, there are some great topical treatments out there that can help ease symptoms and provide your skin with some much-needed relief. According to the Cleveland Clinic, your doctor will prescribe a topical treatment based on the type of eczema you have as well as its severity. This means that you shouldn't try random topical treatments without the guidance of a medical professional. The topical treatments your doctor prescribes need to be applied according to the instructions provided. 

Typically, doctors prescribe corticosteroids in the form of ointments or creams to address any redness and swelling (via the NHS). If you suffer from intense itching, your doctor might prescribe antihistamines. If you have eczema on more sensitive parts of your skin that refuses to react to topical corticosteroids, your doctor might prescribe topical tacrolimus or pimecrolimus. In some cases, your doctor might recommend you go see a dermatologist who can prescribe stronger treatments. Aside from prescribed topical treatments, it's also imperative you keep your skin moisturized at all times. A great time to moisturize is right after you get out of the shower or bath. Make sure the moisturizer you use is made for sensitive skin to prevent any further irritation or flare-ups.

Avoiding certain foods might help to prevent symptoms from worsening

Can avoiding certain foods help with eczema symptoms? There are no clear-cut answers to this question, but some food allergies might trigger eczema symptoms. People are commonly allergic to foods like eggs, peanuts, and dairy. You might not know that you're sensitive to these foods, so cutting them out for a while (one by one) and then reintroducing them to your diet can help you figure out if they contribute to eczema flare-ups.

Speaking to the National Eczema Association, Peter Lio, M.D., explained that it's possible that, while people are experiencing an eczema flare-up, certain foods might make symptoms worse, but it's not necessarily the root cause of their symptoms. "Interestingly, for many of these patients, once their inflammation goes down and their skin clears up, they can eat some or even all of the foods that were acting triggers before," he says, adding that he's seen patients go on super restrictive diets only to have their eczema symptoms persist. 

With that said, Lio adds that gluten, simple carbs, and sugars can trigger inflammation in some people, so following a healthy plant-based diet is recommended. In fact, many patients experience an improvement in symptoms after eating healthier. "With this as a background, maybe for a month or two to stabilize, I think that adults can then experiment with excluding foods that they think may be contributing to flares," Lio explains. So, why not give this easy method a try?