ESC offers itch and eczema management tips

When we think about itch, it is typically associated with atopic dermatitis (AD), commonly known as eczema. It can feel like thousands of bugs biting us at the same time, and the need to scratch can truly feel out of our control. In many ways, it can be hardest part of living with AD, yet sometimes, the most misunderstood.

To help with this uncomfortable, disruptive, and frustrating symptom, ESC created tips on how to reduce scratching and calm the itch of AD. With help from dermatologist Dr. Rachel Asiniwasis MD, FRCPC, and registered psychologist Shawn Reynolds, PhD, this content is a follow up to our Itch in Atopic Dermatitis Survey Report that explores the impact of itch on quality of life and daily activities.

ESC spoke with Dr. Asiniwasis about itch and AD, who shared: “As doctors, our understanding of itch is advancing. We are continuing to learn more and more about this challenging symptom and are unlocking new ways to treat it. In recent years research pointed to the inflammatory process as part of what drives itch in AD. More recently, researchers are better understanding the relationship between the immune system and nerve cells and how they communicate with each other, and how that connection contributes to itch.”

It is an exciting time as science is evolving and we are beginning to find new ways to understand and manage this troublesome symptom. In the meantime, people with AD are itchy! Check out the tips from our experts below to help you and your family cope with this challenging symptom.

TIPS TO CALM THE ITCH (from a dermatologist)

The itch associated with atopic dermatitis (AD) can be uncomfortable, disruptive, and frustrating. It can also be complex. Our understanding of the science of itch is evolving, and researchers are exploring new ways to treat this challenging symptom. If you or your child are having difficulties with itch, be sure to speak with a qualified health care provider, like a dermatologist, to ensure the condition is being managed appropriately.

  • Keep nails smooth and trimmed short to reduce damage from scratching.
  • Try a cool compress or take a cool bath or shower.
  • Try to reduce stress as much as possible. Find activities you enjoy and help you to relax, such as walking, meditation, cooking, or exercise.
  • The use of moisturizer may help to relieve dry skin and itch

TIPS TO COPE WITH THE ITCH (from a psychologist)

Be gentle with yourself: Scratching is a tricky habit to break! As a fellow AD sufferer, I know the reasons I am not supposed to scratch – mainly, that it just makes my condition worse – but I still can’t stop myself from doing it anyway!

Be gentle with your loved one: If you are a parent or a loved one of someone with AD, you probably know that telling them “Just stop scratching!” doesn’t work. They would stop if they could! AD sufferers often find it very hard to control their urge to scratch, as their skin can be extremely itchy. Instead, offering a distraction, such as spending time with them, playing a game, or doing some kind of activity together can be a good alternative. Be patient with them, and know that they want to stop as much as you want them to stop.

Practice awareness of your scratching habits: Try being aware of the places or times of day when you are mostly likely to scratch, like sitting in front of the TV, or when falling asleep.

Try thinking strategies: Focus on something else instead of the sensation of itch, do some deep breathing, or recognize the sensation of itch and see if you can acknowledge the sensation without scratching the skin.

Try finding an enjoyable and distracting activity such as reading, watching television, or playing a game.

It can be helpful to remember that well-managed flares can result in less itchy skin. If you or your child are having difficulties with itch, be sure to speak with a qualified health care provider, like a dermatologist, to ensure the condition is being managed appropriately.

For more information, visit eczemahelp.ca/itch.