Eczema, also known as dermatitis, can cause no small agony for sufferers. Symptoms like itching are maddening, and the visible rash can be a source of embarrassment. At Orlando Dermatology in Orlando, FL, we understand the emotional and physical tolls dermatitis can take and offer answers to help you manage your condition.
What Is the Main Cause of Eczema?
The exact cause of dermatitis remains unknown, but we have determined genes and triggers play crucial roles. Specific genes cause allergies, in which your body reacts to substances that are typically harmless. Allergies exemplify the most frequent over-reactive immune responses and are commonly caused by substances like:
- Pet dander
An over-reactive immune system is likewise prevalent in people with dermatitis, in which an internal or external substance triggers inflammation. Many times, inflammation is a positive response; it allows the body to defend itself against intruders and signals cell generation to repair or replace damaged tissues. But when left untended, and prompted unnecessarily, inflammation leads to the itchy, red, and painful skin associated with dermatitis.
Another Genetic Characteristic
Dermatitis may also be the result of a gene mutation in which the body doesn’t produce enough filaggrin. As a protein, filaggrin helps create a barrier that keeps skin firm and plump. It protects against damaging elements and retains moisture so skin stays hydrated.
In the absence of filaggrin, the barrier doesn’t fully develop or is severely compromised. This allows viruses, bacteria, and other toxins to freely attack as crucial moisture escapes. A lack of hydration explains why patients with dermatitis tend to have dry, flaky, and peeling skin that is also more prone to painful infections.
The Role of Triggers
Even with the presence of specific genetic characteristics, most dermatitis flare-ups are caused by secondary triggers. It’s hard to pinpoint these because symptoms don’t necessarily appear immediately after exposure. Additionally, different people have different triggers; while one person is more likely to have a flare in the summer, another might be more sensitive in the winter.
Without universal characteristics, dermatitis becomes even more challenging to diagnose and treat. What we have done is to identify common triggers that may correlate to your own condition:
- Bath products like body wash and shampoo
- Household cleaners
- Laundry detergents
- Fabrics like polyester
A Word About Stress
Although the link is not well-understood, a relationship does exist between stress and dermatitis. This appears to be an ongoing cycle, in which living with the symptoms of dermatitis – sleepless nights, ongoing tich, burning sensations, and rash-like appearances – poses emotional stress. That, in turn, causes dermatitis to grow worse, which only prompts more stress. The question then becomes, how do we break this cycle and restore peace of mind?
The body enters what’s known as a fight-or-flight mode during times of stress, characterized by the release of cortisol and adrenaline. These hormones were intended to give us the rapid-fire energy we needed in the earliest of times of our existence when fleeing for our lives was commonplace. Fortunately, life has changed a great deal since those days, but our bodies still enter this mode when we feel anxious.
We now understand that too much cortisol causes inflammation, among other problems. The skin is particularly susceptible to inflammation, and here is where the relationship between dermatitis and stress becomes apparent. Symptoms can start or intensify when you feel the most anxious, which, as we explained earlier, sets into motion a negative-response pattern.
No cure exists for dermatitis, so treatment strives to relieve itching with moisturizers. These can be prescribed as well as purchased over the counter (OTC) and are best applied right out of the shower or bath when damp skin is best prepared to soak them in.
Treatments under this umbrella run the gamete from topical steroids – ranked in potency from category 1 (most potent) to category 7 (least potent) – to PDE4 inhibitors. Corticosteroids can be applied only to affected areas. It’s important to keep in mind that certain sites, such as the face or between the thighs, absorb high quantities of medicine and must therefore be treated with care.
One PDE4 inhibitor is approved for the treatment of dermatitis – an ointment that can be applied to even the gentlest of areas. This universal application makes it an ideal alternative to steroids and can address symptoms like:
- Skin thickening
The FDA oversees OTC medicines, but we recommend you check with our staff before adding one of these treatments to your regimen. This ensures you pick the right one for your skin’s needs and do not counteract the effects of prescriptions (if applicable). Among the most common OTC options are antihistamines, which help curb inflammation to stop itching. Pain relievers like ibuprofen can similarly be used to address pain and burning.
Topical hydrocortisone products, like creams and gels, can also be purchased OTC to temporarily tackle the symptoms of itching, irritation, and inflammation. Additional options include:
- Dandruff shampoos
- Bathing with fragrance-free bath oils
- Using apple cider vinegar to create a wet dressing
- Applying an oatmeal paste directly to the skin
Arm Yourself With Knowledge
Managing the symptoms of eczema essentially comes down to knowing your triggers, implementing consistent bathing and moisturizing practices, using medications as directed, and preventing infection. While this process may take some time, our office is here to help. For more information or to schedule a medical evaluation, call Orlando Dermatology in Orlando, FL, today.