Eczema is a skin disease marked by redness and severe itching, which can get so bad that sufferers will sometimes scratch themselves until they bleed. It generally occurs in cycles, with flare-ups followed by periods of remission that vary in length.
The “itch/scratch” cycle
All that scratching and itching ends up creating a vicious cycle. When you scratch, you damage your skin, which then releases inflammatory chemicals. These chemicals trigger even more itching, so more scratching. And on and on it goes…
The pattern can become intense enough to disrupt a person’s quality of life: it can cause insomnia, produce irritability and get in the way of day-to-day activities.
Hydration, the cornerstone of eczema care
Eczema-prone skin does not maintain its moisture as effectively as healthy skin. This means it tends to get dry.
The solution is to apply a good dose of moisturizer every day, even in periods of remission. Since proper hydration can help you minimize the number of flare-ups, it’s worth keeping it up even when your skin is feeling good.
As for your choice of product, the use of a moisturizer formulated for eczematous skin is recommended. Apply it after your bath or shower, when skin is still damp. To learn more about moisturizers and other eczema prevention measures, read our article, “Eczema causes and prevention.”
Since eczema cannot be cured, its treatment is intended to reduce inflammation and relieve itching. The use of topical agents (creams and ointments) applied directly to skin is the general course of action.
Medications to reduce inflammation
There are two classes of medications used to treat inflammation: corticosteroids and immunomodulators.
Topical corticosteroids (also called topical steroids or cortisone cream) have been used successfully for the past 40 years to alleviate skin inflammation caused by eczema or other skin diseases. They are classified in groups based on their potency – from very low to very high. The severity of a person’s eczema will determine the potency of the cream selected.
Topical immunomodulators are also used to treat inflammation, but do so according to a different mechanism from corticosteroids. They are a good choice for someone who has eczema on areas of the body where topical corticosteroids cannot be applied (e.g. eyelids).
Both classes of topical treatments have one thing in common: they need to be used correctly for maximum benefits. So be sure to apply the recommended quantity and respect the dosage.
Medications to relieve itching
By treating inflammation, cortisone creams and topical immunomodulators also help to reduce itching. But when you need immediate relief – for example, at night, when the itching is interfering with your sleep – you can use over-the-counter antihistamines.
We know that the sun’s ultraviolet rays are good for many skin diseases, including eczema. However using tanning to manage eczema is completely out of the question! A treatment known as phototherapy is used to provide the benefits of sun exposure without the risks (e.g. skin cancer). Offered at the dermatologist’s office, phototherapy is reserved for severe cases that do not respond to standard treatments.
Do you have questions about eczema treatments? Speak with your family pharmacists for answers and valuable advice! They can also prescribe* medications for certain minor health problems, including eczema, when the treatment and diagnosis are already known. A consultation will be required so the pharmacist can make sure you meet the prescribing criteria.
To avail yourself of this service, you may need to book an appointment with your family pharmacist. Ask a member of the pharmacy team for more details. Some Uniprix-affiliated pharmacies also offer an online appointment booking service. To locate the store nearest you providing this service, click here.
*Certain conditions must be respected. Fees may apply. Ask a member of the pharmacy team for more information. Pharmacists alone are responsible for the practice of pharmacy. They offer related services only on behalf of pharmacist-owners.