7 common myths about eczema you shouldn’t believe

Eczema is an inflammatory skin condition that results in dry, itchy skin, according to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. And although the ailment is relatively common – the National Eczema Association estimates that it affects about 10 percent of Americans – there are still plenty of unknowns, such as why some people get eczema and others don’t. It also tends to appear in people who have other skin conditions, such as psoriasis.

Perhaps that’s why there are so many myths surrounding eczema. To clear up the confusion, let’s look at 7 common misconceptions.

1. Eczema is contagious

Point-blank, that’s simply not true. “It’s a genetic condition and is not contagious,” says Charles E. Crutchfield III, MD, a clinical professor of dermatology at the University of Minnesota Medical School in Minneapolis and medical director of Crutchfield Dermatology. Fear not: If you’re struggling with eczema, there’s no way you’ll give it to anyone else by rubbing against them and vice versa: You won’t contract it by touching someone else’s rash.

2. A family history of eczema means your baby will definitely have it, too

Sixty percent of eczema cases show up within a baby’s first year, according to a study published in the Journal of Pediatrics. Because it’s genetic, having family members with eczema does increase the risk your child will also have it. That said, breastfeeding may reduce a baby’s chances of developing it. A study published in April 2016 in the journal Medicine found that breastfeeding either partially or exclusively for at least six months significantly reduced the risk of eczema.

Applying moisturizer may also help your little one, but ask your doctor first, as the research has been conflicting. A study published in October 2014 in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology concluded that applying moisturizer daily can help decrease the likelihood your baby will develop eczema, but another trial published in March 2020 in The Lancet, found that daily moisturizer didn’t prevent eczema in high-risk children – and may have even increased the risk of skin infections.

3. Eczema is caused by stress

There’s a slight but important distinction here: Stress doesn’t cause eczema, but it can trigger flare-ups of the skin condition and make it worse. That’s due to the release of stress hormones, which can exacerbate inflammation, says Jeffrey Benabio, MD, a dermatologist at Kaiser Permanente in San Diego. “Stress can also make you more likely to scratch and [become] more irritated, which, of course, also makes eczema worse,” he says.

Because eczema and stress are linked, mindful meditation and exercise can help you keep the condition in check. According to a small pilot trial from August 2013 by Emory University researchers, people reported being less emotionally bothered by their itchy skin after participating in an eight-week meditation course. (The study participants had itchy skin but did not necessarily have eczema.) They also said that meditation improved their sleep and ability to cope with stress and relationships.

4. Eczema can be cured

Unfortunately, there’s no cure for eczema, but it is possible for it to go into remission. Your number one tool? Moisturizer – especially in the winter months, Dr. Crutchfield says. He recommends using a gentle bodywash in the shower, followed by a moisturizing cream. (Apply it at another point in the day, too.)

For many cases, there are topical anti-inflammatory medications available over the counter or by prescription. Some people may also need oral medication to lessen the itchiness, says Michele Green, MD, a New York City–based dermatologist in private practice and a RealSelf.com contributor.

Crutchfield says his patients have also seen success with gentle phototherapy treatment. “We call this narrow band phototherapy B,” he says. “Patients will come in once a week or so for treatments, and it helps to keep eczema away.” Treatment typically lasts between four weeks and three months, according to the Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care, a public health institute in Germany.

So although eczema won’t go away 100 percent and requires ongoing maintenance, there are many treatments and lifestyle changes that can help you keep it under control.

5. Eczema is an individual problem

Having eczema can negatively affect your quality of life. A study published in July 2018 in Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology found that adults with eczema reported more dissatisfaction with their lives than people without eczema. The condition also caused people with eczema to avoid social interaction and impacted their activities. This suffering affects not only the individual but also the entire family, Crutchfield says.

“It takes time and resources away from other activities and other members of the family,” he says. “It can affect social interaction between couples, their children, and other members of the family.” For example, let’s say someone takes medication that causes excessive drowsiness. That can trickle down, influencing their mood and their ability to perform everyday tasks.

6. Eczema will clear up on its own

Treating eczema quickly is key to keeping it from becoming more inflamed and problematic, Dr. Benabio says. More inflammation leads to more scratching, which can lead to bacterial infection, making eczema worse. There are many treatments available, from the medication mentioned earlier to lifestyle changes, such as avoiding excessive sweating, steering clear of soaps and fragrances known to be triggers, and moisturizing twice a day, according to the Mayo Clinic. The key, though, is acting fast and treating the skin before the vicious itch-inflammation-infection cycle begins.

7. Eczema is a superficial issue

It might seem like eczema is a concern only for people who are preoccupied with their looks, but its impact is more than skin deep. “It’s extremely disturbing, itches profusely, and can cause a complete lack of attention to normal daily activities,” Crutchfield says. “When you are miserable and your skin’s itching and you are unable to complete your job successfully, study successfully, or enjoy social relationships, your quality of life is greatly decreased.”

Research has also shown eczema’s negative effect on a person’s health. A study published in March 2015 in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology found adults with eczema are more likely to smoke and drink, less likely to work out, and more likely to be obese and suffer from cardiovascular disease and diabetes than those without the skin issue. And a study published in January 2020 in The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology: In Practice found that adults with eczema are 14 percent more likely to develop depression and 17 percent more likely to develop anxiety than those without the skin condition.

Source: Everyday Health

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