Self-care with eczema is not always simple, straightforward, or obvious. There is not always a specific set of instructions for eczema that can be applied to everyone.
As a radiologist, I spend my day identifying disease patterns and being aware of which imaging features on a scan guide which treatment outcomes. However, as an eczema patient for most of my life, I’ve learned that the unique idiosyncrasies of how our own bodies respond and cope with eczema often are harder to understand and decipher than anything I have read in a medical textbooks for my own work.
Below are a few important but not always obvious daily tools I have learned about my own self-care.
The list of lessons below is by no means complete, but just a simple list of things I have learned about own my body that work for me over time. I wish I had had this list when I was a child; it would have saved me the trouble of learning it all the hard way.
Nail care. This sounds like an odd one but can be paramount. When I was younger, I would scratch till my skin bled, and then just keeping scratching. After years, I realized that in the process of scratching, my owns nails had become the weapon via which I inflict trauma on my skin. You can control this weapon by blunting its ability to hurt you. Cutting your nails as short as possible helps, but, as many of you may note, after cutting your nails they feel sharp and then inflict more damage when you scratch. My solution has been to cut my nails extremely frequently, and then most importantly, file them with an emery board (or whatever you tool you prefer) until they are extremely smooth. I have found this both decreases my urge to scratch but also dramatically reduces the trauma on my skin when I do. Though my eczema has since improved and I have become a bit less in need of this, during the worst of my times I would often cut and file my nails once every 2 days. Easily bored, I typically did this while watching TV.
Bedding and clothes. The skin is the largest organ in your body, and when you have eczema, your inflamed skin is all the more sensitive. Often the very clothes we wear and sheets we sleep in can act as trigger points for us. Make an effort to find clothes, towels, and sheets that are soft and gentle on your skin. I would often wash my bed sheets frequently, eliminating any potential triggers, so I felt fresh and comfortable when sleeping. I would also use the full assortment of hypoallergenic covers over my mattress and in my pillows. Clothes that are cotton or other natural, gentler materials can also make you feel more relaxed and comfortable to eliminate itching.
Temperature changes. Temperature changes in either direction can trigger your eczema without you realizing it. It is helpful to anticipate weather changes to realize when you might have an exacerbation and be prepared. If you are going out on a hot day, maybe you will need to remember to take your cream with you. If you itch more in the night when sleeping in the heat, maybe you can keep the house cooler. These are seemingly obvious and simple solutions, but it takes awareness to actually be disciplined about them.
Humidity. Depending on where you live and the season, low humidity can be the silent risk factor making your skin worse. Low humidity can have several causes, including seasonal variation, geographic location, and indoor heating, which generally decreases the humidity in your living space. For many of us living in cold climates, our winters are naturally low humidity and turning on the heat only makes it drier. Having bad eczema with minimal humidity felt like a silent torture for me during long Michigan winters growing up. I stumbled upon this solution during trips to Delhi, where the excessive humidity felt like a warm blanket for my inflamed eczema. Monitor the humidity where you are and use a humidifier inside in the areas where you spend the most time to help keep your skin moisturized. Often the highest-yield strategy that is least cumbersome is to use this humidifier where you sleep for maximum benefit.
Maybe these tips can help you directly. If nothing else, I hope my experiences can show that eczema is a journey that plays out uniquely for all of us. Our journeys may share some similarities, and they may have some differences, but we can find progress by learning about our own bodies and the things that that work for us individually.
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