No, stress won’t exactly cause eczema. Learn why, and read about other common misconceptions about the rash-like condition.
Eczema is an inflammatory skin condition that results in dry, itchy skin. That’s according to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and although the ailment is relatively common — the National Eczema Association estimates that eczema affects about 10 percent of Americans in one way or another — there are still a lot of unknowns. For instance, experts don’t know exactly why some people get it and others don’t, and there’s a lot of overlap with other skin conditions, such as psoriasis.
Perhaps that’s why there are so many myths surrounding eczema. To clear up the confusion, we consulted a few leading dermatologists to debunk seven common misconceptions.
1. Myth: Eczema Is Contagious
That’s simply not true — point-blank. “It’s a genetic condition and is not contagious,” says Charles E. Crutchfield III, MD, a clinical professor of dermatology at the University of Minnesota Medical School in Minneapolis and medical director of CrutchfieldDermatology.com. Fear not: If you’re struggling with eczema, there’s no way you’ll give it to anyone else simply by rubbing against them. And vice versa — you won’t contract it by touching someone else’s rash.
2. Myth: A Family History of Eczema Means Your Baby Will Have It, Too
Sixty percent of eczema cases show up within a baby’s first year, according to a study published in November 2011 in the Journal of Pediatrics. Because it’s genetic, having family members who battle eczema does increase the risk your child will also have it. That said, Dr. Crutchfield says it’s possible to reduce their chances. How? Consider moisturizer your baby’s BFF. A study published in October 2014 in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology supports this approach: Researchers concluded that using a moisturizer daily can in fact help decrease a baby’s likelihood of developing eczema.
3. Myth: Eczema Is Caused by Stress
There’s a slight but important distinction here: Stress doesn’t cause eczema, but it can trigger the skin condition and make it worse. That’s due to the release of stress hormones, which can exacerbate inflammation, says Jeffrey Benabio, MD, a dermatologist at Kaiser Permanente in San Diego. “Stress can also make you more likely to scratch and [become] more irritable, which, of course, also makes eczema worse,” he says. Because eczema and stress are linked, employing practices like mindful meditation or exercise can help you keep the condition in check.
4. Myth: Eczema Can Be Cured
Unfortunately, there’s no way to cure eczema, but it is possible to put it into remission. Your No. 1 tool? Moisturizer — especially in the winter months, Crutchfield says. He recommends using a gentle body wash in the shower followed by a hydrating moisturizing cream. (Apply it again at another point in the day, too.) For severe cases, there are topical anti-inflammatory medications available over the counter or through a prescription. Some people may also need oral medication to lessen the itchiness, says Michele Green, MD, a New York City–based dermatologist in private practice and a RealSelf.com contributor. Crutchfield says his patients have also seen success with gentle phototherapy treatment. “We call this narrow-band phototherapy B,” he says. “Patients will come in once a week or so for treatments, and it helps to keep eczema away.” So although eczema won’t go away 100 percent, there are many treatments and lifestyle changes that can help to keep it under control.
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5. Myth: Eczema Is an Individual Problem
There’s really no such thing as suffering alone. Crutchfield says the entire family is affected when someone has eczema. “It takes time and resources away from other activities and other members of the family,” he says. “It can affect social interaction between couples, their children, and other members of the family.” For example, let’s say someone takes medication that involves excessive drowsiness as a side effect. That can trickle down to affect their mood and impact their ability to perform everyday tasks.
6. Myth: Eczema Will Clear Up on Its Own
Actually, treating it quickly is key to keeping eczema from becoming more inflamed and more problematic, Dr. Benabio says. More inflammation leads to more scratching and can lead to bacterial infection, which makes eczema worse. There are many treatment options available, from the medication mentioned earlier to lifestyle changes, such as avoiding heat and excessive sweat, steering clear of foods known to be triggers, and keeping skin moisturized. The key, though, is acting fast and treating the skin before the vicious itch-inflammation-infection cycle begins.
7. Myth: Eczema Is a Superficial Issue
It might seem like eczema is a concern only for people who are preoccupied with their looks, but its impact is more than skin-deep. “It’s extremely disturbing, itches profusely, and can cause a complete lack of attention to normal daily activities,” Crutchfield says. “When you are miserable and your skin’s itching and you are unable to complete your job successfully, study successfully, or enjoy social relationships, your quality of life is greatly decreased.” Research has also shown how eczema can negatively impact a person’s health. For instance, a study published in March 2015 in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology found adults with eczema are more likely to smoke and drink, less likely to work out, and more likely to be obese and suffer from cardiovascular disease and diabetes than those without the skin issue.