Atopic dermatitis: 6 ways to manage itchy skin

If itchiness interferes with your daily routine, try these strategies to find relief.

People with atopic dermatitis (eczema) often struggle with itchy skin. The itchiness can be painful, interfere with sleep and affect a person's quality of life. Taking topical steroids (corticosteroids) and applying lotion, cream or ointments (emollients) to the skin are the mainstay therapies that reduce itchiness and protect the skin.

To manage itchiness and find relief, try experimenting with the following strategies.

  1. Keep your skin moisturized. People with eczema, especially atopic dermatitis, tend to have very dry skin. Dry skin is itchy and can worsen the itch of eczema. Apply moisturizer daily. The best way to replace moisture in the skin is to soak in a bath or take a shower and then moisturize immediately afterward. If the air where you live is very dry, use a humidifier to add moisture to the air.
  2. Stay cool. Being too hot can make your skin feel itchy. Use warm water instead of hot water for showers and baths. Wear light clothing outside on hot days so that you don't overheat. Turn on the air conditioning indoors to get a break from hot weather. Keep cold packs in your freezer and apply them to itchy spots for cooling relief. Some lotions include ingredients to create a cooling sensation, such as menthol.
  3. Don't scratch. Scratching provides only temporary relief from itchy skin. It actually makes your skin itchier because it activates the nerve fibers in your skin. The National Eczema Association recommends that you pinch and pat the itchy skin rather than scratch it. If you find yourself giving in to the temptation to scratch, cover the area with clothing or a temporary bandage. Trim your nails so that they won't hurt your skin if you scratch.
  4. Be gentle with your skin. Wash gently, rather than scrubbing your skin in the shower or bath. Avoid harsh soaps that will dry and irritate your skin. Choose clothing with soft fabrics such as cotton that won't add to itchiness.
  5. Manage stress. Stress worsens itchiness. Take steps to reduce the stress in your life, such as making time for what matters to you and turning down additional responsibilities. Find ways to cope with the stress you feel, such as doing things you enjoy and activities that focus your mind on something other than your stresses. Consider meditation, yoga, and spending time with friends and loved ones.
  6. Talk to your doctor. Tell your doctor how itchiness interferes with your daily activities. Together you might consider a new treatment strategy. Treatments specifically for itchiness are also available.
March 08, 2022 See more In-depth