The driest season of the year is here, winter! Along with winter comes the cold, snow, stress, and of course: colds, flus and other ailments. Among these are eczema flare-ups. How can we differentiate between eczema and an allergic skin reaction? What is the difference between them and why is it important to know this difference? What are some things that can be done to help? This article will answer all of these questions and guide you in how to appropriately manage eczema.

What is eczema?

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Eczema is a skin condition that usually occurs during the winter season and is characterized by itchiness, inflammation and redness. In the scientific community, it has been termed “Atopic Dermatitis”. it is caused by a mixture of cold, dry weather and hot showers on vulnerable skin. Most of the time it appears on the thighs, lower legs, abdomen and arms as these areas are likely less hydrated than your hands or face. Some people are more susceptible than others, so it is important to have adequate hydration and ensure proper moisturization, especially during the winter.

Allergic skin reactions

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An allergic skin reaction, or “Contact Dermatitis” may occur in any season, at any time, for any reason. It can be caused by anything from contact with a plant in which the individual has an allergy, to a very commonly associated change in beauty products (new lotions, creams, make-up). It usually appears on the place of contact and should not migrate. The area will be very red and itchy, and may have little bumps. It is important to note that if the skin reaction appears as “hives” characterized by extreme itchiness, raised skin, and plaque-like appearance that may migrate to other areas of the body, you should seek medical attention as this may be a serious allergic reaction.

Allergic skin reactions are usually treated with topical steroids such as hydrocortisone cream or antihistamine tablets such as Benadryl (diphenhydramine) or Reactine (cetirizine).

Treating Eczema

The management of eczema comes down to two different approaches; non-pharmacological and pharmacological. Non-pharmacological approaches are extremely important in combating eczema. Drug treatment is rarely required and is typically reserved for more serious cases. Some of the things that you can do to combat eczema include:

• Avoid harsh soaps. Use mild soap cleansers such as Dove.
• Avoid hot showers. The temperature change on dry skin may cause irritation and cracking.
• Moisturize frequently. Liberal amounts of moisturizers can keep the skin hydrated and soft.
• Apply an occlusive barrier. Using barriers after bathing helps keep the water from evaporating.
• Use sunscreen on sunny days, even in the winter. The UV rays can irritate sensitive skin.
• Steer clear of any allergens.
• Use a humidifier at night. Humidifiers generate more moisture into the air to mitigate drying.

Pharmacological treatments are often tailored to reducing the redness and the itchiness caused by the rash. Hydrocortisone is a mild steroid cream that can be used to reduce swelling, redness and itchiness of the area. Benadryl (diphenhydramine) is an antihistamine that helps to reduce the itchy reaction from the rash. The tablets or capsules can be used, though typically topical treatments would be tried first. More serious cases may require prescription strength products to help combat the rash.

Taking care of your skin is the first step to winning the battle.

Please do not hesitate to contact our Canadian Compounding Pharmacy team for more information on this topic at (416) 239-3566 or leave a comment below.

Brad Hallman
B. Sc. (c), Pharm. D (c)

References
1. Canadian Pharmacists Association. Patient Self-Care, 2nd Ed. 2010. Pages 510-533, 614-618.
2. Holten KB; American Academy of Dermatology. How should we care for atopic dermatitis? J Fam Pract 2005;54(5):426-7. Accessed February 7, 2016.