Self-management

Lifestyle and home remedies

To help reduce itching and soothe inflamed skin, try these self-care measures:

  • Moisturize your skin at least twice a day. Find a product or combination of products that works for you. You might try bath oils, creams, ointments or sprays. For a child, the twice-a-day regimen might be an ointment before bedtime and a cream before school. Ointments are greasier and sting less when applied.
  • Apply an anti-itch cream to the affected area. A nonprescription hydrocortisone cream, containing at least 1 percent hydrocortisone, can temporarily relieve the itch. Apply it no more than twice a day to the affected area, after moisturizing. Using the moisturizer first helps the medicated cream penetrate the skin better. Once your reaction has improved, you may use this type of cream less often to prevent flare-ups.
  • Take an oral allergy or anti-itch medication. Options include nonprescription allergy medicines (antihistamines) — such as cetirizine (Zyrtec) or fexofenadine (Allegra). Also, diphenhydramine (Benadryl, others) may be helpful if itching is severe. But it causes drowsiness, so it's better for bedtime.
  • Don't scratch. Rather than scratching when you itch, try pressing on the skin. Cover the itchy area if you can't keep from scratching it. For children, it might help to trim their nails and have them wear gloves at night.
  • Apply bandages. Covering the affected area with bandages helps protect the skin and prevent scratching.
  • Take a warm bath. Sprinkle the bath water with baking soda, uncooked oatmeal or colloidal oatmeal — a finely ground oatmeal that is made for the bathtub (Aveeno, others). Soak for 10 to 15 minutes, then pat dry. Apply moisturizer while the skin is still damp.
  • Choose mild soaps without dyes or perfumes. Use soap that's superfatted and nonalkaline. Be sure to rinse off the soap completely.
  • Use a humidifier. Hot, dry indoor air can parch sensitive skin and worsen itching and flaking. A portable home humidifier or one attached to your furnace adds moisture to the air inside your home.
  • Wear cool, smooth-textured clothing. Reduce irritation by avoiding clothing that's rough, tight or scratchy. Also, wear appropriate clothing in hot weather or during exercise to prevent excessive sweating.
  • Treat stress and anxiety. Stress and other emotional disorders can worsen atopic dermatitis. Acknowledging those and trying to improve your emotional health can help.

Coping and support

Atopic dermatitis can be especially stressful, frustrating or embarrassing for adolescents and young adults. It can disrupt their sleep and even lead to depression. And close family members of people with this condition may face financial, social and emotional problems.

Seek psychological support from counselors, support groups, friends or family.

Prevention

The following tips may help prevent bouts of dermatitis (flares) and minimize the drying effects of bathing:

  • Moisturize your skin at least twice a day. Creams, ointments and lotions seal in moisture. Choose a product or products that work well for you. Using petroleum jelly on your baby's skin may help prevent development of atopic dermatitis.
  • Try to identify and avoid triggers that worsen the condition. Things that can worsen the skin reaction include sweat, stress, obesity, soaps, detergents, dust and pollen. Reduce your exposure to your triggers.

    Infants and children may experience flares from eating certain foods, including eggs, milk, soy and wheat. Talk with your child's doctor about identifying potential food allergies.

  • Take shorter baths or showers. Limit your baths and showers to 10 to 15 minutes. And use warm, rather than hot, water.
  • Take a bleach bath. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends considering a bleach bath to help prevent flares. A diluted-bleach bath decreases bacteria on the skin and related infections. Add 1/2 cup (118 milliliters) of household bleach, not concentrated bleach, to a 40-gallon (151-liter) bathtub filled with warm water. Measures are for a U.S.-standard-sized tub filled to the overflow drainage holes.

    Soak from the neck down or just the affected areas of skin for about 10 minutes. Do not submerge the head. Take a bleach bath no more than twice a week.

  • Use only gentle soaps. Choose mild soaps. Deodorant soaps and antibacterial soaps can remove more natural oils and dry your skin.
  • Dry yourself carefully. After bathing gently pat your skin dry with a soft towel and apply moisturizer while your skin is still damp.