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The Itch That Won't Quit: Understanding and Managing Atopic Dermatitis

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Good morning, this is your Wellness Wake Up Call with Kristin Bogdonas, nutrition, and wellness educator for University of Illinois Extension, serving Rock Island, Henry, Mercer, and Stark Counties.

In honor of Eczema Awareness Month, I thought I would spend some time to highlight atopic dermatitis which is the most common form of eczema. Unless you or someone close to you is affected, you likely don’t know the impact it can have on someone’s life.

Until this year, I knew very little myself but that has all changed since my son was diagnosed with eczema in June and the past 4 months have been quite the journey.

Let's start with the basics.

Imagine a relentless, uncontrollable itchiness that affects your quality of life and can feel bone-deep. That’s how people describe the feeling. Eczema is a widespread condition, affecting approximately 1 in 10 individuals at some point in their lives. Eczema doesn't discriminate by age but most people experience their first symptoms during youth. Babies can be diagnosed with eczema just weeks after being born.

You cannot 'catch' this complex skin disease, but you can inherit a gene that predisposes you to it. Additionally, the disturbance in the balance of skin microbiota is increasingly recognized as a factor contributing to the development of atopic dermatitis or AD.

It typically involves periods of intense flaring, during which symptoms are at their most severe, alternating with periods of remission. People with eczema are statistically more likely to have asthma, allergies, sleep disruptions, and secondary infections.

The appearance of eczema can vary significantly across different skin tones; fair skin may become bright red and develop a rash, whereas darker skin tones can manifest as pale, grey, ashen, or even purple.

So, what can you do about that itch? Research shows that the best way to relieve itchy eczema is to get eczema under control. This can take time so for temporary relief, you may find success with one of these suggestions from the American Academy of Dermatology:

· Apply a cool compress to sooth hot, irritated skin followed by a moisturizer

· Adding colloidal oatmeal to the bath

· Finding ways to distract yourself or your child with a favorite activity, story, or snack

· Stress reduction

· Pinching or tapping near the itchy eczema

· Dress in loose-fitting clothes made from natural fibers like cotton or bamboo

· For younger children and babies, you will want to use mittens and scratch sleeves to prevent skin damage.


Is there a cure?

Although a cure for eczema has not yet been found, there are numerous effective strategies and treatments available to help people manage and alleviate their symptoms. Newer research on topical microbiome transplantation has shown promising results for patients with AD. Though the initial NIH study in 2018 was small, additional clinical trials continue to produce improvements in disease severity without adverse effects. This is exciting news for patients looking for more natural treatment options.

The most important thing to remember is that the body wants to heal. The journey to healing was explained to me as a marathon, not a sprint. It's essential to uncover the triggers that lead to flare-ups and to follow a skin routine that works for you (or the person you are caring for). Remember, no two people are alike. It may take a lot of trial and error before finding a skin routine that is right for you.

Also, consider speaking with a variety of healthcare professionals. Dermatologists, allergists, naturopaths, and integrative practitioners can all offer you their unique perspectives and treatment options. Remember, YOU are your best advocate. Do your due diligence and learn as much as you can so you can make informed choices for your current and future health goals.

There are many success stories and a majority of people with atopic dermatitis will outgrow the condition over time. New research and treatment options continue to emerge that will hopefully stop that itch!

For more information and inspiration, visit wvik.org/wellness.

Kristin Bogdonas believes that everyone deserves access to fresh, affordable food and is committed to helping people improve their health literacy. In this digital age it can be difficult to decipher what nutrition information is accurate and what is hype. Connecting people with factual information and evidenced-based programs will help people build the skills and attain the knowledge necessary for positive behavior change. Although nutrition is important for a long and healthy life, one should not overlook the other dimensions of health required for overall wellbeing; physical, mental, emotional, vocational, spiritual, environmental and social. Each dimension impacting the next.