These are the top 5 skin conditions that are commonly mistaken for eczema (even by doctors!)
Published On: Jan 4, 2021
Last Updated On: Sep 28, 2022
For more than 30 million Americans affected by atopic dermatitis (AD), eczema is more than just an inflammatory skin disease; it’s a life-altering condition that impacts every aspect of daily life. If 2020 taught us anything, it’s that daily living can be challenging enough without also having to manage the complexities of a chronic illness.
Now that 2020 is behind us (phew!), we’re ready to face 2021 by taking control of eczema. We spoke with several pros to collect 20 top lifestyle and health hacks that can make it easier to manage AD and all the challenges that come with it. From practical tips and clever strategies to free resources and helpful apps, this list will equip and empower you to live a better life with eczema.
In other words, #BringItOn2021! We’re not going to let eczema stand in our way this year.
Managing the daily burdens of a disease like eczema can quickly get overwhelming. How can you realistically balance skincare routines, sleep schedules, doctor’s appointments, healthy diet, and exercise, while drinking plenty of water and avoiding eczema triggers — and still leave some precious time for yourself at the end of the day? It’s not easy!
Try these lifestyle hacks to make every day easier while living with eczema.
1. Commit to a regular routine.
Following a daily skincare routine that works for your skin and your schedule is the first step to taking control of AD.
“Establishing a good regimen and sticking to it is one of the great secrets of keeping eczema in check,” says Peter A. Lio, MD, a clinical assistant professor of dermatology and pediatrics at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine. “A daily shower or bath with a gentle cleanser, a good moisturizer twice a day, avoiding known triggers, and getting good sleep can all go a long way to maintaining clear skin.”
While each person may have their own specific daily regimen for skincare, the key is consistency — even if your symptoms fluctuate. Although flares may demand extra attention, don’t take a day off from skincare when your symptoms subside.
“Be proactive rather than reactive,” says Vivian Y. Shi, MD, an associate professor in the department of dermatology at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, where she directs the Eczema Clinic and Hidradenitis Suppurativa Clinic. “Treat your eczema, even when it looks clear, to prevent a flare.”
To make your daily routine more rewarding, look for ways to multi-task during treatment. For example, Shi says, a bleach bath two to three times a week can help reduce the itch while giving you some “me-time” to relax in the tub.
2. Examine every product that touches your skin.
Finding products to soothe your sensitive skin can be a challenge. Since eczema affects each person differently, a product that brings relief for someone else may not work as well for you.
If you know you’re allergic to certain ingredients, check product labels carefully before you buy. Look for the NEA Seal of Acceptance™ (SOA) for assurance that you’re buying products that don’t contain ingredients or contents known to irritate sensitive skin. The SOA product directory can make it easier to find skincare products, cleaners, clothing, and other household items that are safe for use with eczema.
When trying a new product for the first time, apply a pea-size dab to the skin inside your wrist or elbow. Watch for any reactions like redness, rash, or breakouts over the next day or two before you continue use.
Search the SOA product directory: https://nationaleczema.org/eczema-products/.
3. Track your triggers.
Watch out for any triggers that might exacerbate your eczema, such as stress, certain foods, or environmental irritants like pets or extreme temperatures. Paying attention to the factors that impact your eczema is key to managing the condition day to day.
Some patients keep journals to track their skin’s reactions to various triggers, but lugging a notebook around can be a hassle. Now, a new app from NEA called EczemaWise makes it even easier to track everything in one place.
“EczemaWise was designed to help patients keep track of their eczema symptoms, as well as other aspects of their life that might have an impact, such as sleep and food,” says Lio, who served as an advisor during the app’s development. “We think it will help patients and their healthcare providers better understand the patterns of their skin, to ultimately help them get better.”
The EczemaWise app includes tools to track eczema symptoms (like itch, pain and skin appearance) and triggers (like stress, diet and environment), as well as sleep and treatment schedules.
Download NEA’s EczemaWise app: https://www.eczemawise.org/.
4. See an eczema specialist.
Although many primary care physicians are comfortable seeing patients with eczema, “seeing a specialist who focuses on eczema can be important,” Lio says, “because they tend to have a more holistic view of treating the condition. Additionally, if symptoms require more powerful treatments, you may need a specialist to obtain those treatments.”
Plug your zip code into the Provider Finder on NEA’s website to locate medical professionals near you who specialize in treating AD and related health conditions like asthma and other allergies.
“Eczema specialists have specific expertise to design a more integrative treatment plan by combining different treatment options,” Shi says. “Many eczema specialists work as an interdisciplinary team to manage more than just the skin aspect of eczema.”
Search NEA’s Provider Finder: https://nationaleczema.org/eczema-doctors-near-me/.
5. Prepare for appointments with your healthcare provider.
Instead of just showing up for appointments unprepared, take an active role in your treatment plan by collaborating closely with your healthcare team. Keep your specialists in the loop as your symptoms, treatments, and other lifestyle factors change, so that they can fine-tune their recommendations.
Shi and Lio recommend that patients come prepared for appointments by bringing:
6. Explore the mind-body connection.
Treating the full spectrum of AD symptoms often requires a multifaceted approach. To complement your prescribed eczema medications, talk to your doctor about integrating other therapies like Traditional Chinese Medicine, acupuncture, hypnotherapy, massage therapy, yoga, or meditation.
While medical research is lacking for some of these complementary treatments, many patients report numerous benefits spanning stress management, better sleep and even clearer skin. “There is some evidence that hypnosis and other techniques can help both the stress component as well as the eczema itself,” Lio says.
As always, it’s important to discuss your treatment plan with your doctor before trying new therapies. “There are many fascinating alternative and integrative approaches to eczema,” says Lio, the founding director of the Chicago Integrative Eczema Center. “Just trying things on your own can lead to trouble, and can often be expensive and frustrating, so it really helps if you have a guide who is experienced.”
Explore complementary and alternative therapies for eczema: https://nationaleczema.org/topic-cam/.
7. Lock in moisture with a wet wrap.
“One of my favorite techniques is the wet wrap,” Lio says. “After a shower or bath, apply moisturizer cream or medicine liberally, then apply a damp layer. This can be a gauze, cloth, a shirt, or even a whole bodysuit, such as long underwear or a onesie, dunked into water and then wrung out so it’s damp. Finally, apply a warm, dry layer — such as a sweatshirt or sweatpants — to keep you toasty warm. The damp layer helps moisturize the skin and allows it to heal for several hours or even overnight.”
8. Keep cool during exercise.
“Exercising with eczema can be a bit of a balancing act,” Lio says. “Friction and sweat cause many people to flare up, but the benefits of exercise are hard to ignore for overall health and wellness.”
Try these gym hacks to get the benefits of exercise without irritating your eczema:
9. Stay hydrated.
Whether you’re exercising or sitting at a desk, drinking plenty of water throughout the day is one of the easiest healthy habits to adopt. “Staying hydrated is important for everyone, and may be particularly important for eczema patients,” Lio says. “The actual amount needed varies so much from person to person, but a good rule of thumb is that the urine should be clear or very light in color. That’s a good way to know you’re getting enough water.”
10. Distract your hands from scratching.
We all know to avoid scratching, which can further damage your skin. But if you can distract yourself with other enjoyable activities instead, then you might just forget about the itch altogether.
“Art projects that involve working with the hands are incredibly good at distracting you and keeping your hands busy — and that means not scratching!” Lio says. “Working with clay, practicing origami and drawing are all fantastic ways to take the mind off eczema.”
Plus, several studies have shown that the act of making art can reduce stress, so finding a creative hands-on hobby can actually be a therapeutic form of self-care.
11. Set a bedtime ritual.
When constant itch keeps you up at night, it can be challenging to get the deep sleep you need to refuel your body. “Adopt a good sleep routine,” Shi says. That means . . .
12. Engage with other eczema warriors.
Perhaps the best advice of all, Shi and Lio agree, is to remember that you’re not alone in your daily eczema journey. “There are so many people who are suffering from eczema,” Lio says, “and, importantly, so many people who are here to help.”
Start making connections in the eczema community by engaging with NEA @NationalEczema on Instagram and Facebook. Also sign up for our eNews at NationalEczema.org to learn about events and other opportunities to join together with eczema peers.
Even if you’ve mastered the art of daily eczema living, navigating the intricacies of health insurance, medical bills and pricey prescriptions can pose an administrative nightmare — not to mention the financial headache of simply affording your treatment.
Coordinating your healthcare journey with eczema doesn’t have to be hard. Check out these healthcare hacks to take charge of your treatment and discover discounts, cost savings, and shortcuts along the way.
1. Take responsibility for your records.
Taking control of your eczema means keeping track of all your specialists, appointments, prescriptions and bills. Find a system of organizing all these records in one convenient place, whether it’s a three-ring binder or a computer file.
“It’s definitely necessary to be organized,” says Nadereh Pourat, PhD, associate director of the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research and professor of health policy and management at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health. “If you have access to an online medical chart through your health system, a lot of that information is put together for you in one place. It’s fantastic in terms of remembering what services you’ve had, and it allows you to contact your doctors through the portal.”
Ask your providers and pharmacies to provide printouts of all your visits and prescriptions at the end of the year to add to your records, or see if they offer an app that gives you access to your patient history. By habitually reviewing all your bills and cross-checking your receipts, you could even uncover billing errors that might have cost you thousands of dollars if you weren’t paying attention.
2. Be candid with your doctor.
As critical as it is to be open with your healthcare providers about your symptoms, it’s just as important to be honest about your financial situation if you can’t afford your medication or other medical bills. Your doctor may be able to recommend some cost-saving options, such as:
Don’t be shy about sharing your financial concerns with your healthcare team; it will help them design a realistic treatment plan you can actually afford and adhere to.
3. Calculate insurance costs over time.
Whether you’re covered by public health insurance like Medicaid or Medicare or by a private insurance policy, be informed about your benefits. Instead of shopping for insurance plans based on premiums alone, consider your out-of-pocket costs over time.
“If you have a more expensive policy (premium), you get the best coverage, but if you get a high-deductible policy (lower premium), you’re responsible for quite a few costs before insurance picks up,” Pourat says. “If you have a high-deductible policy with a 30% co-pay and you go to the doctor 10 times a year, that could really add up quickly with a chronic condition like eczema. If your policy had a $20 flat fee per visit, you’d be a lot better protected.”
Choosing the best health insurance plan depends on your individual needs, budget, and provider network, so it’s important to weigh your options carefully.
“You have to think about this over the long-run,” Pourat says. “Calculate how often you usually go to the doctor, the cost of medications you need, your co-pays and deductibles, and add it all up. You’re probably better off with a slightly more expensive premium, and a lot more protection.
4. Stand up to insurance companies.
Insurance companies increasingly use prior authorization to control prescription drug costs by requiring physicians to submit your case for approval before prescribing a certain medication. They may also use step therapy — which requires patients to try and fail other less expensive drugs before they’ll cover a particular prescription — unless you get prior authorization. These administrative burdens can obstruct access to necessary treatment — especially if the insurer denies your medication.
“If you get a prescription rejected, you should always question it,” Pourat says. “You have to advocate for yourself.”
You can appeal a claim if your insurance company denies a treatment. Visit NEA’s website for help filing an appeal. The Patient Advocate Foundation also offers templates for writing effective appeal letters. Your physician can help, too, by providing some of the required documentation you’ll need to make your case for insurance coverage.
Get help filing a health insurance appeal: https://nationaleczema.org/filing-an-appeal-with-health-insurance/.
5. Save money with prescription discounts.
Regardless of your insurance coverage, you can get help paying for your medical bills and prescriptions. If you need assistance, look into some of these financial aid programs (but remember that some of these only serve certain ages or income levels).
Government-sponsored financial assistance programs:
Nonprofit financial aid programs:
Pharmaceutical discount programs:
If you need financial assistance to pay for any part of your eczema care, your doctor may be able to recommend additional programs or discounts. Many hospitals and nonprofit organizations have increased their support, and even received federal funding, to serve patients who have been financially affected by Covid-19, so don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it.
6. Access affordable local care
If you can’t afford health insurance but don’t qualify for coverage through Medicare or Medicaid, you can still receive low-cost treatment through a federally funded community health center. These facilities provide medical services regardless of your ability to pay by charging fees on a sliding scale.
“Community health centers are a great resource for getting a lot of primary care services under one roof,” Pourat says. Although you may still need a referral to see a specialist for severe flare-ups, community health centers are a good place to start.
7. Join a clinical trial.
If you feel like you’ve tried every treatment available but you’re still searching for relief, you could play a valuable role in helping clinicians research new eczema therapies. By participating in clinical trials and medical research, you can get access to the latest treatment innovations — often at no cost or even with financial compensation — while helping doctors understand eczema better. With more than 100 eczema treatments currently under development, there are plenty of opportunities to get involved.
Ask your doctor about participating in clinical studies, and then check out NEA’s list of current trials and research efforts looking for participants: https://nationaleczema.org/research/clinical-trials/.
8. Fight for your rights as an eczema warrior.
Whenever you feel overwhelmed by the financial and administrative burdens of managing eczema, remember that you are not alone! More than 31.6 million Americans are facing the same struggles and figuring out clever ways to overcome common obstacles. Join the community of eczema warriors to compare experiences and ideas, raise awareness about the burdens of eczema and advocate improved access to affordable, effective eczema treatments.
Connect with NEA to find ways you can get involved in advocacy efforts to shape healthcare policies that impact people living with eczema. Consider joining the NEA Ambassadors program to get engaged in advocacy, community and research initiatives to spread more understanding of eczema’s impact on daily living.
Support NEA’s advocacy initiatives: https://nationaleczema.org/advocacy/.
Join the NEA Advocacy Ambassadors program: https://nationaleczema.org/ambassadors/ .