Eczema During Winter
If you’ve ever suffered from Eczema symptoms, you know how uncomfortable this condition can be, both physically and emotionally. From a physical perspective there’s the persistent itching and the general discomfort that comes from a rash. From the emotional side, there are the feelings of insecurity that can come from the appearance of red, dry, flaky patches on the skin that can be difficult to manage.
However, the good news is that there are several things you can do to better manage Eczema, especially during the colder, drier months of winter.* To help you better understand Eczema, we sat down with one of California Skin Institute’s expert dermatologists, Dr. Lauren Gebauer to discuss this condition.
Q: What is Eczema and why does it occur?
Dr. Lauren Gebauer: Eczema is a very common skin condition. It’s basically your skin’s manifestation of the body trying to counter an allergen, like animal dander, wool or scratchy clothes or soaps or fragrances, or even cleaning products. The body tries to counteract these allergens by bringing inflammatory cells to the skin, and that’s why you get the red, scaly patches. So the redness isn’t the actual problem, but rather a symptom that shows that the body’s defense mechanism has been engaged.
Q: What are some of the more common symptoms of Eczema?
Dr. Lauren Gebauer: The symptoms can vary from one individual to another, and of course based on severity. But typically you’ll see red, scaly patches that are also dry. The shape of these can also vary. In some cases if you come into direct contact with an allergen, like a belt buckle, the shape of the red patch might even resemble the shape of the object.
Q: Why does Eczema tend to get worse in the winter?
Dr. Lauren Gebauer: Well, it’s important to remember that the skin is the largest organ in the body, and its main function is protection. It keeps all the bacteria and bad stuff out of our bodies. During winter, the dry air and cooler temperatures cause more water to evaporate from the skin. We call this trans-epidermal water loss, and it tends to weaken the skin’s protective barrier. So imagine the skin as a brick and mortar wall – moisture loss causes cracks to develop and now it’s much easier for allergens to enter through those cracks. That’s why the skin’s reaction gets more dramatic during colder, drier weather, because it’s fighting off more allergens.
Q: You’ve mentioned that Eczema can be compared to an allergic reaction. Are some people more prone to this than others?
Dr. Lauren Gebauer: There are some genetic factors that affect this. So if someone in your family has it, then you’re more likely to develop this condition, if you haven’t already. But it can really affect people at any stage in their life. Children, adults and the elderly can all develop Eczema. It’s a condition that is still being studied and we don’t fully understand it. But some of the research suggests that part of the problem may be genetic deficits in the skin barrier. And of course when you combine that with cold, dry weather the skin barrier is further weakened, and you get a reaction.
Q: How do you diagnose Eczema?
Dr. Lauren Gebauer: Typically just a visual inspection is enough to diagnose this condition.* But it’s important to work with a dermatologist because Eczema is often confused with other conditions, like psoriasis or even ringworm.*
Q: What about Eczema treatments?
Dr. Lauren Gebauer: The number one thing to treat Eczema is just to make sure that you maximize the skin barrier and try to minimize dry skin as much as possible.* A weak skin barrier is the underlying culprit behind this condition, so good moisturizers are absolutely key. But it goes beyond just using creams; you can also include moisturizing soaps in your routine and it’s also important to assess if there are allergens, like detergents, that may be making the problem worse.* Using a good humidifier at home can also be helpful, but you have to remember to clean it regularly to avoid bacteria.* Of course all of these things may not be enough in some cases and we may need to prescribe antihistamines and corticosteroids in more severe situations.*
Q: What would you suggest to someone who thinks they have Eczema?
Dr. Lauren Gebauer: It’s a good idea to see a doctor. Look, even primary health physicians misdiagnose skin conditions, so trying to figure it out from some photos you saw on WebMD is a hit and miss sort of thing.* Go see a doctor to make sure you have the right diagnosis.* Otherwise you might be treating the wrong thing.* If you think you have Eczema, you can call any CSI practice to schedule an appointment.*
(Dr. Lauren E. Gebauer is a board-certified, fellowship-trained dermatologic surgeon specializing in Mohs Micrographic Surgery. Additionally, she is skilled in multiple cosmetic procedures including neuromodulators, injectable fillers, and laser therapies.)
*Individual results may vary and are not guaranteed.