Eczema news: take a break; stress can aggravate eczema
The National Eczema Association estimates that 31.6 million people in the US suffer from mild, moderate, or severe eczema/atopic dermatitis symptoms. Researchers continue to pursue answers to the age-old question, “Is eczema an immune disorder or a skin barrier defect?” Recent clinical trials point to immune system deficiency as the primary cause; but until this is proven, formulating targeted therapies for eczema remains elusive.
Eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis, differs from patient to patient. In its mild form, eczema is a dry skin condition that causes redness and itching. In its severe form, the relentless itching causes the skin to split and bleed, leaving it open to infection. Children who suffer from eczema sometimes outgrow it; but, for some, it’s a lifelong struggle that can involve excruciating pain. The word “eczema” comes from the Greek word “ekzein” which means “to boil.” Many sufferers can, unfortunately, relate to the “boiling” aspect of this condition. Eczema is not contagious, but there are indications that it’s genetic.
The epidermis, or skin, is the body’s largest and fastest-growing organ. It has several vital functions:
- Protects the internal organs
- Moderates the body’s temperature
- Contains nerves that activate the sense of touch
- Defends the body against germs which cause infection
The dry skin associated with eczema lacks the moisture and fat to repel germs. Irritants such as soaps, pet dander, pollen, mold, or dust mites pass through the weakened skin barrier. Other irritants include certain foods, temperature, humidity, stress levels, and intense exercise. The immune system responds by swelling an affected area with blood. Individuals with eczema experience a wide-range of symptoms due to the malfunction of the skin’s protective barrier:
- Bacterial infections
- Other allergic reactions
Managing encounters with irritants present in our everyday lives is part of the battle to keep symptoms at bay, but what about stress—an internal struggle—which is difficult to control?
Stress has long been recognized as a significant piece in the eczema puzzle. Doctors know that when we are tense, our bodies try to protect the skin by raising inflammation levels. For eczema sufferers, that means trouble. There are measures commonly prescribed to reduce stress levels; unfortunately, some of the strategies can be problematic for people with eczema. With forethought and planning, however, patients can overcome the difficulties and stress levels can be reduced. Speak with Dr. Timani about these strategies and others:
Support groups – Talking with a group of people who share your struggle is beneficial. There are support groups available in most communities. The National Eczema Association provides materials for establishing an eczema support group or becoming a counselor on their hotline. Contact them for information on these opportunities.
A good night’s sleep – Lack of sleep can cause stress. If your sleep is adversely affected by itching or other symptoms, talk with Dr. Timani. A good night’s sleep can alleviate stress.
Relaxing activities – Pursue a pleasant hobby or activity in your spare time. Doing something you enjoy reduces stress and takes your mind off your symptoms.
Learn stress-relief techniques – Books, tapes/CDs, blogs all provide great strategies for relieving stress. Meditation and journaling are ideal activities to promote relaxation and stress relief.
Exercise – Nothing promotes good health and stress relief like fresh air and exercise. However, for some, sweating triggers eczema outbreaks. Every person’s experience with eczema is different. Don’t forgo the idea of exercise because of eczema. Discuss your plans to begin exercising with Dr. Timani and keep these tips in mind:
- Moisturize before and after exercise
- Hydrate before exercise and rehydrate often during and after exercise
- Take regular breaks during exercise to cool down; invest in a cooling towel
- Be mindful of your clothing: look for light, loose, breathable fabrics
- Wash off sweat but do not take hot showers or baths
Try different types of exercise to see which one works for you.
Walking, gardening, tai chi, Pilates, and yoga are low impact activities that don’t create a lot of sweat but can provide a lot of stress relief.
See a health psychologist – Personal and family problems can create a great deal of stress. Talking with a professional could provide self-insight and coping mechanisms to help with stress relief .
Eczema requires treatment by a dermatologist. If you or your child are affected, call Johns Creek Dermatology to make an appointment with Dr. Timani to discuss your symptoms and seek treatment.