Not all types of eczema are the same. Xerotic eczema, also known as eczema craquelé, asteatotic eczema or winter itch, is a form of ezcema which typically occurs during fall and winter. Cold temperatures make it hard to maintain high levels of moisture in the skin and the skin becomes very dry and itchy. Xerotic eczema is more common in elderly people but it also occurs in individuals in their twenties. It tends to occur in the area of the lower leg as well as the chest, thighs and arms.
Symptoms of Xerotic Eczema
Dry, itchy, irritated skin is the most common sign of the condition. There may also be red bumps which look similar to small pimples and the skin may feel tight and look rough after water exposure. Xerotic eczema is especially serious in people living with diabetes. If left untreated it can lead to ulcers, infections and fissures on the feet.
Causes of Xerotic Eczema
Cold temperature is the main cause of xerotic eczema. People also turn up the heat indoors during winter, thereby reducing the humidity in the home or office. The skin gets dry and this leads to itching and cracking. Excessive bathing, showering or other water activities can also lead to the condition.
Many people try to warm up but taking hot baths or showers during winter. While this can help to bring relief from the cold, it also makes the skin dry. Many soaps also pull moisture from the skin, causing the cells to shrink and elasticity to be reduced. Cracks can then begin to develop.
By spending too much time in the water, the patient removes the natural layer of oil on the skin. If this is not replenished, the skin will dry out and this will cause eczema. Soap, water and the chlorine in hot tubs and pools all cause the skin to dry out.
Less common causes of xerotic eczema are an underactive thyroid, zinc and fatty acid deficiencies, severe weight loss and lymphoma. Some retinoids, diuretics and protein kinase inhibitors can also cause this condition.
Diagnosis of Xerotic Eczema
Xerotic eczema can be identified by its appearance and tests are not usually necessary.
Thyroid function tests may be performed if there are other indicators of hypothyroidism like dry thinning hair, weight gain and lethargy. Other internal causes may be investigated if xerotic eczema is accompanied by excessive scaling, weight loss, fever or malaise.
Prevention of Xerotic Eczema
Having xerotic eczema doesn’t mean you can’t spend time in the pool. Just make sure all the chlorine is washed off your skin as soon as possible. Using moisturizing body washes and soaps as well as emollient soaks can also help preserve moisture when bathing and showering. Opt for short, cool showers following by a moisture-rich cream or lotion within three minutes. Shaving the affected area can exacerbate the situation and some materials like wool can cause further irritation so these should be avoided.
Treatment for Xerotic Eczema
Since xerotic eczema is caused by extreme dryness, products with a highly moisturizing effect are the best treatments. Look for fragrance-free lotions and soaps since fragrances can often cause irritation to worsen. Ask your doctor for recommendations if you are unsure about which product to avoid and which to purchase to treat your condition.
Spending time in warm, humid climates may also result in an improvement in symptoms. Light, breathable clothing can also make you feel more comfortable along with placing a humidifier in the room. If your case of xerotic eczema is severe, the doctor may recommend the application of topical steroids for a short period of time.