Eczema Is Common and Frustrating

eczema_handEczema is a skin condition about which I frequently get asked, and also see commonly in consultation here at Maine Laser Skin Care.  Although there unfortunately is no specific laser treatment for this problem (or at least not yet), I thought that it would be helpful to discuss since it is so common and those who have it are generally frustrated with it.

The word eczema itself is derived from the Greek word ekzein meaning “to boil forth.”  Our modern use of the medical term refers to a range of skin appearances characterized by localized inflammation followed frequently by weeping of the skin (i.e. oozing or exuding fluid), particularly when irritated by scratching or friction.  This initial phase progresses into dry scaling and thickened skin over time.

Eczema is a chronic condition, and one of its most aggravating symptoms other than appearance is severe itching.  The itching tends to get worse at night and is aggravated by heat and physical exertion or exercise.  Hands are the most common site for eczema, although other common locations include the ears, breasts, and eyelids.

Hand eczema can be worsened by exposure to environmental irritants and allergens.  Workplace exposure is a common cause and can be lessened by use of appropriate protective gloves.  Because eczema is dry and scaling process, excessive hand washing, which is sometimes required in many jobs, can also aggravate this condition.

eczema_glovesWith the knowledge of eczema noted above, treatment starts with common sense protection.  When there is any “wet work” at home or on the job,  gloves should be used.

Vinyl gloves can protect from chemical exposure and are best in work settings.  However, vinyl does not protect from effects of heat.  Therefore, rubber or latex gloves are recommended for hot, wet activities like dish washing as long as there is no latex allergy.

Cotton gloves do not protect as they tend to absorb allergens and get wet quickly.  For rougher activities like gardening, leather gloves are generally better.

eczema_moisturizeMoisturizing is a another critical step in the protection and treatment of eczematous skin.  The hands and any other other areas of irritation exposed to water should be protected with a moisturizer after each exposure.

Creams, although more convenient, are not as effective as ointment based moisturizers.  Generally, with moisturizers, the thicker the better. Eucerin is one I commonly recommend for that reason.

For severe cases or when nighttime itching is most bothersome, apply the moisturizer ointment before bedtime.  For severe hand dryness and itching, it is recommended that you apply the ointment followed by wearing vinyl gloves.

If these simple maintenance measures do not work, prescription strength medication may be needed and/or referral to a specialist.  Since most cases of eczema are mild, these recommendations should suffice.

However, if you are concerned, please do not hesitate to set up a time to discuss your skin condition with me.  I can make the appropriate evaluation, treatment plan, and/or referral if needed.

I believe that the more you know about skin health, the better off you will be on your journey to looking better and taking better care of yourself.  Keeping asking questions about your skincare, and I will keep trying to provide answers.

About Dr. John Burke

John Burke M.D. has practiced medicine for over 25 years, and is the founding partner of MidMaine Internal Medicine. He established Maine Laser Skin Care in 2004 after devoting years to learning the latest in laser and dermatologic technology. Dr. Burke has treated patients from all over the United States. He is one of Maine's busiest practitioners in laser treatments, and in the use of Botox for upper facial lines and excessive sweating.
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