ECZEMA is a common condition that causes the skin to become itchy, red, dry and cracked. Some people only have small patches of dry skin, but others may experience widespread red, inflamed skin all over the body. Environmental factors such as changes in temperature can also worsen symptoms. According to TV doctor Dr Ranj, colder, drier air can dry up the skin and aggravate the condition.
According to the National Eczema Association, moisturisers offer the first line of defence: “Moisturisers are essential whatever the time of year, but in winter you may need to apply them even more frequently — especially before venturing outside on a cold day.
“You may also find that you need a ‘heavier duty’ moisturiser — an ointment rather than a cream — in the winter months.”
Cold weather also calls for layers but the organisation advises against wearing wool, which can scratch and increase itching.
Rough seams and loose threads can have the same effect.
Women with eczema on their legs may need to shop around for cotton tights, noted the health body.
“If you are allergic to chromate, avoid leather gloves and hats, or wear a pair of silk gloves underneath the leather ones. Silk gloves may also be useful to wear under woolen gloves,” it explained.
Cold weather also brings it with the threat of infection.
Staphylococcus aureus is a bacterium that lives on people’s skin and in their noses.
“People with atopic dermatitis have a lot more staph bacteria on their skin than others, and any open skin makes them prone to infected eczema,” it added.
It is impossible to always prevent the transfer of staph, but people with eczema should keep plenty of tissues handy when they have a cold, so that they can catch as much of the bacteria as possible, and wash their hands after sneezing and coughing.
Conversely, hot weather can also worsen symptoms.
Many people with eczema become itchy, or experience a “prickly heat” sensation when they sweat, or get too hot”.
It may come as a surprise that certain dietary decisions can trigger eczema symptoms too.
According to the NHS, certain foods, such as eggs and cows’ milk, can trigger eczema symptoms.
“But you shouldn’t make significant changes to your diet without first speaking to your GP,” explained the health body.
If a GP suspects a food allergy, a person may be referred to a dietitian (a specialist in diet and nutrition).
They can help to work out a way to avoid the food a person is allergic to while ensuring they still get all the nutrition they need.
Other common triggers of eczema include:
- Metals, in particular, nickel
- Cigarette smoke
- Soaps and household cleaners
- Certain fabrics such as wool and polyester
- Antibacterial ointment like neomycin and bacitracin
- Formaldehyde, which is found in household disinfectants, some vaccines, glues and adhesives
- Isothiazolinones an antibacterial that is found in personal care products like baby wipes
- Cocamidopropyl betaine used to thicken shampoos and lotions
- Paraphenylene-diamine, which is used in leather dyes and temporary tattoos, among others
Emotional stress can also trigger symptoms.
This is the focus of psychodermatology – a growing field that focuses on the treatment of skin disease using psychological techniques.