11 Facts About Eczema

iStock.com/Anetlanda
iStock.com/Anetlanda

If you’ve ever had to deal with dry winter skin, you may think you know what eczema feels like. But anyone living with the chronic condition will tell you it’s much more than that. Rashes can rear their heads at any time of year, and eczema causes include irritants as mundane as food, clothes, and the weather. Symptoms range from mildly annoying to distracting enough to keep people from getting sleep and focusing on their work. Here are some more facts about eczema causes, symptoms, and treatments.

1. Eczema isn't just one condition.

Rather than describing one specific skin condition, eczema is used as a catch-all term for a group of related conditions. When people mention eczema, they’re often referring to atopic dermatitis: This is a chronic inflammatory condition characterized by dry, itchy red patches that flare up across the body when the immune system overreacts to a trigger. There’s also contact dermatitis, which is when rashes are triggered by irritants coming in contact with the skin; nummular eczema, when rashes are coin-shaped; and stasis dermatitis, when fluid “weeps” out of weakened blood vessels in the skin. Eczema shouldn't be confused with psoriasis: While both are conditions that lead to dry, itchy skin, the latter is an autoimmune condition while the former is primarily caused by allergic reactions.

2. Eczema is sometimes limited to the hands.

Eczema doesn’t have to affect the entire body. Hand eczema comes with many of the same symptoms of regular dermatitis—including chapped skin, painful cracks, red patches, and itchy blisters—but is limited to the hands and forearms. Many people without eczema deal with dry hands, especially during the colder months, so it can be difficult to know when these symptoms are signs of a medical condition. If your itchy, irritated hands can’t be treated with moisturizer alone, ask a dermatologist if you may have hand eczema.

3. It's often genetic.

Your genetic background is a strong predictor of eczema. If both of your parents have it, there’s an 80 percent chance that you will develop it as well, according to the Eczema Association Australasia. A family history of asthma and hay fever is also linked to eczema.

4. Eczema can be debilitating.

A list of symptoms doesn’t begin to capture what the experience of living with eczema is like. The itching and discomfort that comes with it can be so intense that it keeps people up at night, leaving them exhausted and unable to function during the day. Symptoms may be so acute that they’re all the person thinks about, which can hinder their relationships and work life. Others may feel discouraged to go out in public because they’re self-conscious of how their skin looks.

5. It's not contagious.

No matter how much contact you have with someone with eczema, there’s no chance of you catching their skin condition. Despite this, many people will see someone scratching their eczema rashes and assume what they have is just as contagious as poison ivy or chicken pox. And because eczema often runs in families, it sometimes carries the illusion of “spreading” between people who live together.

6. Eczema can be triggered by your environment ...

There are a number of environmental factors that can trigger eczema symptoms. Changes in climate—either to cold, dry conditions or hot, humid ones—may be enough to provoke a flare-up. For many people, chemical irritants are the sources of their rashes. Cigarette smoke, perfumes, household cleaners, shampoos, and fabrics like wool and polyester have all been linked to eczema reactions. That doesn't mean that everyone with eczema needs to avoid these things: The condition affects everyone differently, and an irritant that causes one person’s flare-ups may have zero effect on someone else.

7. ... and stress level.

Even if someone with eczema takes great pains to avoid their environmental triggers, a hard day may be all it takes to make their skin break out. Many people with eczema report exacerbated symptoms when they're feeling stressed. According to the National Eczema Association, eczema sufferers are more likely to be diagnosed with anxiety and depression, creating a vicious cycle for patients who count stress as a trigger.

8. It's connected to allergies.

Eczema is often accompanied by an allergic condition, whether it’s asthma, hay fever, or allergies to food. Up to 80 percent of children with atopic dermatitis go on to develop asthma or hay fever. It’s unclear what the exact relationship between allergies and eczema is, but some medical experts believe that the weakened skin barrier associated with eczema makes it easier for allergens to enter the body, which can in turn impact the immune system over time. Allergens—like pollen, dust, pet dander, and mold— are also triggers for some people with eczema.

9. Scratching makes it worse.

When an eczema flare-up starts to itch, it can be impossible to think about anything else. But scratching a rash is the last thing people with this condition should do. Instead of relieving discomfort, scratching a dry patch of skin can irritate it even further. Sometimes eczema sufferers scratch their skin so much that it starts to bleed, opening the door for potential infections.

10. Eczema is more common in kids.

Eczema affects roughly 11 percent of U.S. children [PDF] and 7 percent of adults [PDF]. Most kids with eczema develop it within the first five years of life, with 65 percent percent of child eczema patients first showing symptoms as infants. Living with eczema can be taxing for both kids and parents—especially when kids can’t stop themselves from scratching their rashes—but fortunately, half of kids with the condition grow out of it by the time they reach their teen years.

11. It can't be cured—but it can be treated.

There’s no cure for eczema, but there are some treatments that can help keep aggressive symptoms under control. Above all, eczema patients should keep their skin clean and moisturized to prevent flare-ups. Doctors recommend taking regular showers with warm water (but not hot water, as that can dry skin even more), and applying moisturizer immediately after bathing. If regular moisturizer isn't enough to soothe skin, doctors may prescribe a topical ointment with steroids to reduce inflammation, and if that still isn't effective, systemic medications that fight inflammation throughout the whole body may help. Ultraviolet B therapy is another treatment option. A few times a week, patients stand in a UVB light box that mimics natural sunlight. This encourages vitamin D production and curbs skin's inflammatory response while calming itchiness at the same time.

You Can Use Your FSA or HSA Card to Pay for Medical Items on Amazon

Poike / iStock via Getty Images
Poike / iStock via Getty Images

Good news for Health Savings Account and Flexible Spending Account holders: You can use your HSA or FSA card to pay for eligible items on Amazon. According to Slick Deals, you can put balance towards dozens of health and hygiene items, including deodorant, eye drops, vitamins, lip balm, first aid kits, certain contraceptives, and more.

Not only does this let you pay for medical supplies with pre-tax money, but it also eliminates the hassle of having to go to the store to pick up essentials and non-essentials alike. Plus, it makes it a little easier to spend your remaining FSA funds as the deadline is December 31 (HSA funds, on the other hand, roll over to the following year).

Before ordering, just register your FSA or HSA card like you would for any card. Just be aware that some HSA cards must be registered as a credit card. In those cases, there aren’t automatic restrictions on what you can buy, so you’ll need to check that you’re only using your card for eligible items.

But what if you just ordered some sunscreen or reading glasses (both eligible products) using a regular credit card? Fortunately, you can apply for a reimbursement on past orders. Amazon suggests that you “contact your plan administrator or employer for more information on what items are eligible and how to provide appropriate documentation for reimbursement.”

Items will be listed as "FSA or HSA Eligible" on their individual product pages. And Amazon has a section where you can browse eligible items. A lot more items are covered by your FSA or HSA than you might expect, so to make your shopping a bit easier we broke it down into a list.

- Baby and Child Care
- Brace and Elastic Supports
- Children’s Cold and Allergy
- Cold and Allergy
- Ear Care
- Eye Care
- Family Planning and Tests
- First Aid
- Foot Health
- Home Medical
- Incontinence
- Medical Supplies and Equipment
- Mobility Aids
- Oral Care
- Pain Relief
- Skin Care

If you could use a little shopping inspiration, check out our list of 11 creative ways to spend your FSA money before the deadline, or 11 pain-relief devices you can buy with FSA money.

[h/t Slick Deals]

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy. Thanks for helping us pay the bills!

'Secret Santa' Causes Millennial Anxiety, Report Finds

RTimages/iStock via Getty Images
RTimages/iStock via Getty Images

Secret Santa—the practice of drawing names via a hat or an app and purchasing a gift for that person under anonymity until the gift is revealed, sometimes with rules about a dollar value maximum—has become a common tradition at home and in workplaces around the holidays. It’s intended to be a fun idea to cope with sizable gift pools when buying for everyone is impractical. So why is everyone getting so stressed about it?

According to CBS Philly, the Secret Santa movement has prompted some Millennial-aged employees to feel anxiety over how their gift will be interpreted by others. The data comes from British employment resource Jobsite, which polled 4000 workers including 1054 aged 23 to 38 and found 78 percent of the younger workers believed they spent more than they were comfortable with in an effort to not appear stingy. This was true for Secret Santa and other office celebrations, like birthdays. Roughly a quarter of respondents also reported having to tap into other financial resources, like savings, in order to afford a gift.

Why the desire to overspend? Roughly 17 percent of Millennials polled said that someone in their office had commented on the dollar value of their gift. One-fifth of participants said they’d be happy to see Secret Santa banned from the workplace.

Often, Secret Santa events have financial caps where gifts are expected not to exceed a certain dollar amount. Owing to the frequency of other work occasions, workers responding to the Jobsite survey still feel overburdened.

Even with rules in place about spending, employees have reported feeling stressed about their gift choices, as Secret Santa exchanges are usually discussed or performed with the office as an audience. Sometimes workers use the event as an excuse to hand over joke gifts that may not stick the landing owing to poor taste.

The best Secret Santa protocol? Abide by a dollar amount, be boring—gift cards are virtually critic-proof—and try to use the practice as the relationship-building exercise employers intend for it to be, as it’s probably not going anywhere. Despite their issues, 61 percent of the Jobsite respondents think it’s good for morale.

[h/t CBS Philly]

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