As we age, our skin undergoes several changes. The epidermis becomes thinner, the outer layer of our skin loses its ability to retain water and the skin’s overall barrier function decreases. All of these changes can contribute to many skin conditions, including eczema. An eczema flare up, characterized by red, itchy skin, can be hard to control and is especially exacerbated in the dry winter months. If you’re one of the over 30 million Americans who suffer with eczema, you’re probably ready to try any remedy that might help.
Types of Eczema Commonly Found in Older Adults
There are many different types of eczema so it’s important to know your type so that you can avoid the triggers and heal the skin. Here are the most common types of eczema in older adults:
Common in adults over the age of 60, this type of eczema appears as fissures or grooves that are pink and red, affecting the superficial layers of skin. It’s usually found on the legs but can be found on the upper arms, thighs and lower back. Other symptoms include soreness and itchiness.
Contact dermatitis is temporary and occurs when your skin is exposed to an irritant such as chemicals in a cleaning product or laundry detergent.
Venous Eczema mostly shows up on the lower legs in the form of itchy, red and scaly patches. Older adults who have a high body mass index or a family history of varicose veins are most susceptible.
Nummular Eczema (also known as Discoid Eczema)
Nummular eczema is characterized by coin-shaped scores on the skin. These sores may be open and are very itchy. The lesions may also be dry or weeping.
Seborrheic eczema tends to appear on areas of the body where there are a lot of oil-producing glands (i.e. the upper back, nose and scalp). It appears as red, greasy or swollen skin with white or yellow crusty flakes. While people of any age can develop seborrheic dermatitis, people with certain diseases such as Parkinson’s Disease are believed to be at an increased risk.
How to Treat Eczema
Emollients are medical creams and lotions that can start to heal the open, dry skin from eczema. A true emollient is moisturizing and never contains any fragrances or dyes. Another way you can control that constant itch is with oral medications. Taking an antihistamine, such as Benadryl, can bring down the itching and make you much more comfortable as your skin heals. Because these types of medications can cause fatigue, try taking it at bedtime to see how it affects you.
2. Prescription Eczema Creams (Topical Steroids)
If your eczema continues to worsen and the emollient just isn’t cutting it, try an over-the-counter-cream that contains hydrocortisone. Using cortisone for eczema will moisturize your skin while relieving the incessant itching. Failing that, your doctor will most likely prescribe an ointment that contains a steroid. These medications can quickly clear up the itching and inflammation, but you do need to be careful with them. Using them for too long can lead to skin discoloration or thinning. Make sure to wash your hands after applying it and always follow the directions.
Light therapy is an effective way to treat eczema when lotions and steroids alone can’t control it. Exposing your skin to natural sunlight is the first step. If you live in a cold climate, natural sunlight may not be an option. Your doctor may then recommend phototherapy, a treatment where light is exposed to areas of the skin affected by eczema.
The most common type of light used to treat eczema is narrowband ultraviolet B (UVB) light. UVB light is the best part of natural sunlight and is the most common type of phototherapy used to treat eczema. Research has shown that exposing your skin to UV rays can affect your immune system by reducing the number of white cells in your skin. It’s an overabundance of these cells that cause the redness and inflammation in eczema.
Dr. Margarita Lolis, MD, board-certified cosmetic and medical dermatologist in New York City, explains why phototherapy can be beneficial for treating eczema: “Phototherapy is quick and effective because it only treats the affected areas and it reduces inflammation causing eczema.” And if you were wondering about the risks of phototherapy, Dr. Lolis says the treatment is safe, noting that the UV laser used in phototherapy “uses only one wavelength of UVB energy so there is minimal risk of skin cancer and it prevents the use of steroids which has many side effects.”
Phototherapy can last for weeks to months and can keep your eczema at bay for years.
Natural Remedies for Eczema
If you search online, you’ll be flooded with natural remedies for eczema. It’s important to note that complementary and alternative therapies for eczema are largely unproven. While the research is mixed, many eczema sufferers swear by their natural treatments.
If you’re interested in natural remedies for eczema, it’s best to speak with a naturopathic doctor. A naturopathic doctor will help you pinpoint the cause of your eczema by looking at your vitamin D intake, your overall gut health and any food sensitivities you might have.
In a study discussing the benefits of various natural remedies for eczema, omega-3 supplements and probiotics were found to show great promise. The study concluded that a dietary intake of omega-3 supplements may have therapeutic effects on eczema symptoms. In addition, probiotics supplements may also help eczema by regulating the immune system and preventing the inflammation that comes with it.
Eczema Home Remedies
When it comes to eczema, a good offense is the best defense. It’s much easier to keep dry, cracked skin at bay instead of trying to heal it. Dr. Lolis recommends the following at-home treatment tips to keep your eczema at bay:
- Moisturize every 4 hours with emollients to repair the barrier function of the skin.
- Take quick lukewarm showers to prevent drying out the skin.
- Use body wash with emollients or colloids.
- Use a humidifier in the house and keep the temperature on the cooler side.
- Stay away from harsh detergents.
- Pat skin dry after a shower so that the skin is still moist, then apply an emollient to seal in moisture.