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Eczema treatments for adults

If you have eczema your skin is prone to being dry and inflamed, so you need to take care to avoid things that can irritate it and make it worse (irritants). These include soaps, detergents, wool, and scratching.

However, even if you avoid irritants, sometimes eczema can flare up for no obvious reason. The key to controlling this is to keep your skin well moisturised and bathe regularly, and to use topical (rub on) steroids when you need them. Antihistamines can sometimes help, and it is also important to manage any infections.

Moisturisers and bathing

Moisturisers

moisturiser and spoonMoisturisers (sometimes called emollients) help to put moisture back into your skin. There are many types of moisturisers specifically for eczema, available as creams and ointments. Normal lotions don't provide enough moisture.

You can buy moisturisers directly from the pharmacy or get them through prescription from your GP. Many moisturisers are subsidised, so if you see your general practice team, you may be able to get them at a lower cost.

Tips

Bathing

Having a shower or bath every day helps to moisturise your skin and so will help to control your eczema. To get the most benefit from daily bathing:

Topical (rub-on) steroids

FTU-squareTopical steroid creams can reduce skin irritation and itching that you get with eczema. Make sure you use them as instructed, because you can damage your skin if you use them incorrectly. Your doctor may prescribe a topical steroid for you to try, and will give you specific instructions on how to use it.

Topical steroids are identified by their strength (also called potency), and they range from low potency, for example, 0.5 to 1% hydrocortisone, right up to very potent creams.

Unlike moisturiser, which you should apply liberally, you should only apply a thin layer of a steroid cream. A useful measurement is the finger-tip unit. One finger-tip unit (FTU) is measured as a thin line of cream from the last joint of your index (second) finger to your finger tip. Use this amount of cream to cover an area that is double the size of the palm of your hand.

How much steroid cream to use

Body part

Number of finger-tip units

Face and neck

2.5

Trunk

7 for front

7 for back

Arm

3 each

Hand

1 each

Leg

6 each

Foot

2 each

An average-sized man would use 20 g a day for one whole body treatment, or around 140 g a week.

 

Apply the moisturiser first, wait 10 minutes, then apply the steroid cream.

Use the steroid cream when your skin is red and inflamed, and stop using it once the redness settles down. You should continue using your moisturisers while using the steroid cream.

Antihistamines

Sometimes an antihistamine can help to reduce itching and scratching, especially at night. Some of these medicines are available over the counter at the pharmacy, but they are cheaper when prescribed by your doctor.

Managing infection

Eczema-prone skin is more likely to get infected and this will make the eczema worse. Infected eczema will not improve with your usual treatments.

Infected eczema can be weepy, crusty, or can have pus-filled blisters. It can be just a small patch or cover a large area of skin.

If you think your eczema is infected, see your doctor as soon as possible. A short treatment with antibiotics should clear the infection.

On the next page: More information about eczema (dermatitis)

Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Updated March 2017.

Sources

Page reference: 37247

Review key: HIEXZ-21485