Although there is no cure for atopic dermatitis, there are several lifestyle changes you can make that can help you manage the symptoms.
General Guidelines for Managing Atopic Dermatitis
General tips for minimizing symptoms and helping to prevent flare-ups include the following:
- Take Care of Your Skin
- Avoid Common Skin Irritants
- Maintain a Consistent Temperature
- Limit Exposure to Allergens
- Recognize and Limit Emotional Stress
- Don’t Scratch or Rub
Take Care of Your Skin
Consistent skin care is one of the most critical methods for treatment and prevention of atopic dermatitis flare-ups. Caring for your skin will not only help prevent outbreaks of atopic dermatitis, but it may also help prevent bacterial skin infections common in people with atopic dermatitis.
Doctors recommend that you establish a daily routine to care for your skin. This includes:
- Apply emollients or moisturizers immediately after bathing.
- Take brief baths or showers—no more than 10-15 minutes. Do not soak in water for long periods of time.
- Avoid extremes in water temperature when bathing; lukewarm water is best.
- Limit your use of soap, or try non-soap cleansers instead.
- Pat your skin gently while drying, do not rub briskly.
- Choose soaps, cleansers and moisturizers that are fragrance-free.
Avoid Common Skin Irritants
Outbreaks of atopic dermatitis are often caused by skin exposure to irritants such as:
- Soaps or detergents
- Solvents or chemicals
- Woolen or synthetic fabrics
- Skin astringents or other alcohol-containing skin care products
- Cosmetics or fragrances
Maintain a Consistent Temperature
Protect your skin by maintaining cool, stable temperatures and average humidity levels. Avoid cold, dry weather conditions, and minimize outdoor exposure during cold weather. Wear clothing that covers and protects your skin as much as possible, and hydrate the skin with moisturizers after exposure.
Also, avoid conditions where you will be exposed to excess moisture, such as in steam baths and hot tubs or when sweating after strenuous exercise.
Limit Exposure to Allergens
Because there are many allergens that may trigger atopic dermatitis, it is nearly impossible to completely eliminate all allergens from your environment. However, there are many things you can do to help reduce allergens and minimize your exposure to allergic triggers. For example, to limit your exposure to dust, animal dander, molds, and pests, keep your home and work environment clean and dry.
Recognize and Limit Emotional Stress
Maintaining emotional balance and avoiding stress are strongly recommended, as stress is a strong trigger for atopic dermatitis outbreaks. If you need support or assistance in reducing stress, you may want to try some of the following techniques:
- Stress management classes
- Relaxation techniques
- Breathing exercises
Don’t Scratch or Rub
People with atopic dermatitis seem to be more sensitive to itching and feel the need to scratch longer in response. Often, this creates an “itch-scratch cycle”—the skin itches, the person scratches, and the skin becomes even itchier. This scratching pattern will affect your skin reaction and healing patterns, sometimes resulting in thick, leathery skin from excessive scratching. Keep your skin moisturized to minimize irritation, and try not to scratch or rub whenever possible. Ask your doctor about medicines to relieve the itching.
When to Contact Your Doctor
If your symptoms become noticeably worse, or are not responding to lifestyle changes or prescribed treatment, notify your doctor.
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Last reviewed November 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Michael Woods MD, FAAP Last Updated: 12/20/2014