When you have eczema, the desire to scratch can be irresistible. Unfortunately, scratching causes damage to the skin, triggering further inflammation and worsening of the condition.
Stopping The Itch
July 5, 2023
How to Stop Eczema Itching Effectively
Eczema is a chronic skin condition that affects millions of people worldwide. It is characterised by itchy, red, and inflamed patches of skin, and the urge to scratch can be almost unbearable. Unfortunately, scratching eczema can lead to further inflammation and damage to the skin, making the condition worse. In this blog post, we'll discuss some ways to control itch.
This blog article will cover the following:
1. How to stop itching eczema
2. Tips for eczema itch relief
3. Eczema treatments
4. The importance of not itching
5. Eczema itch FAQ's
1. How to stop itching eczema
When you have eczema, the impulse to scratch can be overwhelming and intolerable. Especially when it disrupts your everyday life and your ability to sleep, the need to reduce or stop your urge to scratch is paramount. Thankfully, there are both physical and psychological solutions to help you to stop scratching your eczema.
Physical solutions to stop itching eczema
There are a few physical remedies that can be used to help yourself stop scratching your eczema such as:
Raised temperature increases the perception of itch therefore cooling the skin does the reverse; this can be achieved either using cold compresses or cooling lotions (menthol, camphor and phenol). For a cold compress, use a clean, cool, damp cloth or towel and apply it to the affected area for a few minutes, until it gets warm or it’s dry. The wrap will help your skin to absorb moisture and help to relieve the itch.
Reduced water content in the skin also stimulates/exacerbates itch, so using emollients to rehydrate the skin and prevent further water loss can be helpful. There are a large number of moisturisers which you can use, the key is finding a product that works best for you; heavier/oilier moisturisers need to be applied less often but are harder to apply to large areas, and generally, they are more likely to be tolerated by individuals with very dry skin. Avoid any scented products as the added chemical components cause further irritation. Some natural options include aloe or shea butter.
Colloidal oatmeal, topical steroids and topical calcineurin inhibitors can also be used to reduce inflammation and subsequently reduce itch. These products are applied directly onto your skin and work on the localised area to reduce symptoms.
Psychological solutions to stop itching eczema
As well as physical solutions, there are also psychological solutions that can help quell your need to itch, including:
Feeling stressed and being in certain stressful situations can exacerbate eczema symptoms, and make the desire to scratch even worse. Unfortunately, many of these situations aren’t completely avoidable, but practising relaxation techniques like deep breathing, mindfulness, meditation, or yoga can help to reduce stress and promote relaxation which will help ease your desire to scratch.
Our experience of symptoms increases the more we focus on them, therefore distracting the mind through grounding techniques can be a powerful tool to reduce the severity of itchiness. This can be achieved by engaging in activities that focus the mind including reading, writing, completing puzzles etc - the key is to find something that works for you and is easily accessible - remember the urge to itch can come at any time.
Living with eczema can be challenging, both physically and emotionally, especially when you go through it alone. Talking to friends or family members about how you're feeling can help to reduce stress and anxiety as well as improve your overall well-being.
Here at Tend Health, we believe it should be easy for you to feel comfortable in your own skin and be able to tackle your eczema quickly. Our monthly membership is designed to reduce delays in specialist reviews and for you to get a long-term fix with tailored advice. Learn more about our 4-part process and how we can help you start the journey to stop tolerating your eczema today.
2. Tips for eczema itch relief
There may not be a cure for eczema, however, there are ways to help relieve the itchy feeling that comes with it.
Eczema-prone skin is often dry and can become even itchier when it's not properly moisturised. Applying a fragrance-free, hypoallergenic moisturiser (emollient) can help to soothe the skin and reduce itching by adding moisture back into the skin and adding oils to the skin surface to prevent further water loss. Remember to apply often but lightly in smooth, downward strokes and to re-apply before the skin becomes dry again. Less oily moisturisers are easier to apply and feel lighter, but need to be applied more often.
Another way to help relieve your itchy skin is to take a lukewarm bath or shower which can help to hydrate your skin and relieve itching. You can also add colloidal oatmeal to the water to soothe the skin further as it can help the skin retain more moisture. After your bath, pat your skin dry with a soft towel rather than rubbing, and re-apply your moisturiser.
Tight clothing made from rough-feeling materials with raised seams and clothing labels can irritate your eczema-prone skin and make itching worse. Avoid synthetic materials and wool, and instead, choose to wear thin layers of loose-fitting clothing made from softer natural fabrics like cotton, bamboo and silk.
It's impossible to completely control the urge to scratch (especially when sleeping), therefore taking steps to minimise the damage incurred by scratching is also crucially important, keeping your nails short and smooth will help minimise damage. Be wary of using nail polish as many contain chemicals which may irritate your skin if you do scratch.
Eczema triggers vary from person to person, identifying your personal triggers is a crucial step in gaining better control of your skin, once you understand what drives your flares you can avoid or minimise your exposure and can significantly reduce the frequency and intensity of flare-associated itching. Triggers can include things like certain fabrics, foods, soaps, or detergents, keeping a diary which collates your activities, diet, personal care products and eczema control can be a useful tool to better understand your skin.
3. Eczema treatments
Though there is an overlap between tools to control itch and eczema treatments, they are not identical. Itch treatments are focused on short-term solutions, making your life more comfortable in the moment. Long-term, the goal needs to be to achieve better control of your eczema through treatments to prevent and minimise flares.
In the UK, there are several over-the-counter (OTC) eczema treatments available for individuals to manage eczema. These treatments are designed to help reduce inflammation and itching, soothe irritated skin, and promote healing. They include:
Emollients are moisturising creams, ointments, and lotions that can help to hydrate and protect the skin. They should be used regularly to keep the skin hydrated and reduce itching.
Topical corticosteroids (weak potency)
Topical corticosteroids are anti-inflammatory creams and ointments that can help to reduce mild inflammation and itching. They are available in different strengths; only weaker strength creams are available OTC and can be used for short-term relief of eczema symptoms.
Colloidal oatmeal is a natural ingredient that can help to soothe and hydrate the skin. It is available in creams, lotions, and bath products, and can be used to relieve eczema itching.
It is essential to follow the instructions for use carefully when using OTC eczema treatments. If symptoms persist or worsen, individuals should seek medical advice.
Prescription eczema treatments are available for individuals with moderate to severe eczema who require more advanced treatments than over-the-counter options. Note that even in the most severe cases of eczema, over-the-counter emollients still form the core pillar of treatment. Here are some examples of prescription eczema treatments available:
Topical corticosteroids (moderate - strong potency)
Stronger strength topical corticosteroids are available compared to those available over the counter.
Topical calcineurin inhibitors
Topical calcineurin inhibitors are creams and ointments that can help to reduce inflammation and itching associated with eczema. They are typically prescribed to minimise steroid use, especially on areas of skin more susceptible to negative side effects of topical corticosteroid use.
Phototherapy involves exposing the skin to ultraviolet light under medical supervision. This treatment can help to reduce inflammation and itching associated with eczema and is typically used when other treatments have failed.
It is essential to follow the instructions for use carefully when using prescription eczema treatments. Individuals should also attend follow-up appointments with their GP or dermatologist to monitor their condition and adjust treatment as needed. It can be helpful to have a written eczema action plan which details how to manage your skin both during flares and during periods of remission.
Home remedies for eczema are natural treatments that can be used to complement medical treatments or to relieve mild eczema symptoms such as:
Adding colloidal oatmeal to a warm bath can help to soothe and hydrate the skin. Oatmeal has anti-inflammatory properties and can help to reduce itching and redness associated with eczema.
A natural moisturiser, coconut oil can help to hydrate and protect the skin.
Aloe vera is a natural anti-inflammatory that can help to soothe and hydrate the skin.
Tea tree oil
Tea tree oil has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties that can help to reduce inflammation and itching associated with eczema. It can also be added to a carrier oil, such as coconut oil.
Chamomile is an alternative natural anti-inflammatory that can help to soothe and reduce redness associated with eczema. It can be brewed into tea before being applied to affected areas.
It is important to note that home remedies for eczema may not be suitable for everyone, and some may cause skin irritation or allergic reactions so be careful when using them for the first time.
4. The importance of not itching
When you have eczema, the need to scratch can be irresistible. Unfortunately, scratching eczema can cause further damage to the skin and make the condition worse. In fact, the more you scratch, the more damage you can cause, which can lead to breaking the skin’s surface, bleeding, scabbing and infection, all of which can lead to longer healing times.
Additionally, scratching can further inflame the skin, making eczema symptoms even more intense. It’s often a vicious cycle as the more you scratch eczema-prone skin, the more it itches, making the condition worse. Plus, constant scratching can lead to scarring and changes in skin pigmentation, which can be difficult to reverse.
Overall, avoiding the urge to scratch eczema is crucial for managing symptoms and promoting healing. Using physical and psychological techniques, as well as looking at treatment options, to reduce itchiness can help to break the cycle of scratching and reduce the risk of further skin damage and inflammation.
FAQs – Eczema Itch
Why does eczema itch?
The need to scratch eczema occurs when nerve endings in the skin are stimulated by a number of factors such as external irritants, dry skin or chemical mediators in the skin. When your skin becomes itchy, the response is to scratch which causes damage to your skin and often starts the itch-scratch–damage cycle.
What is the strongest medicine to stop itching?
There is no single strongest medicine to stop itching. The best way to tackle the symptom is through a multi-pronged approach - cool the skin either through wet wraps or topical cooling agents, increase the moisture content in the skin and prevent further moisture loss through the use of emollients or warm bathing (with additive) and tackle the underlying condition through your treatment plan.
What are some home remedies for eczema itch relief?
There are many home remedies that can be used to relieve the need to scratch your eczema and use natural ingredients to either complement medical treatment or help mild cases. Aloe vera, tea tree oil, and chamomile all have natural anti-inflammatory properties that can help reduce redness and inflammation. Coconut oil can also be used as a natural moisturiser, as can adding colloidal oatmeal to a warm bath, both of which can help to soothe and hydrate the skin.
What should I avoid doing if I have eczema?
Generally speaking individuals with eczema should avoid any activities which might lead to further moisture loss from the skin (harsh soaps, dehydration etc), in instances where this is impossible to avoid moisturising immediately after the event can help rehydrate the skin and minimise the risk of triggering flares. Understanding your personal triggers is also crucial, as once you know these, you can either avoid them, minimise exposure or take steps to mitigate risks after exposure, common triggers include chemicals in personal care products, rough materials such as wool, or exposure to dry air (air conditioning).