Eczema, also called atopic dermatitis, is characterized by having dry, red, and itchy skin caused by inflammation. The symptoms may come and go, and the itching can often make the condition worse. The itchiness can be a nuisance and many people with eczema might find it distracting or may have difficulty sleeping. Some might have a problem with self-confidence, have a negative self-image, or a large amount of stress correlated with the condition. Others may have symptoms of depression, social isolation, or anxiety. A large number of patients with eczema have psychological stress and/or reduced quality of life. The psychological burden could possibly even create additional problems for these individuals, and controlling these stressors may be just as important as treating the physical symptoms of eczema. These are some of the psychological coping strategies that can be used to deal with the effects of eczema.
As an adjunctive form of treatment for eczema, relaxation techniques are being evaluated, although high-quality studies are lacking. One month of progressive muscle relaxation significantly decreased the severity of itching and loss of sleep in patients with atopic dermatitis. After a one year follow-up of patients with atopic dermatitis, a form of relaxation therapy called autogenic training led to significant improvement in the condition as well as a significant reduction in the use of topical steroids. Autogenic training is a series of exercises that involve the removal of external stimuli and distractions, verbal and mental repetition of commands, and the focus on inner sensations.
Love and affection can be one of the most uplifting feelings a person can feel, and touch or physical affection may have a positive influence on those who are living with eczema. In a small study of patients with mild eczema and patients with mild allergies, kissing a lover or spouse freely for 30 minutes while listening to soft music caused a decrease in some of the cells and chemicals that lead to allergen-based symptoms.
Behavioral therapy is a collection of different methods that involve training of the emotional response to stress. In one study, cognitive behavioral therapy led to a significantly larger improvement over standard topical therapy for atopic dermatitis and combining patient education of lifestyle options along with cognitive behavioral therapy reduced the use of topical steroids. A different study that used a combination of behavioral and cognitive interventions with relaxation training demonstrated a significant reduction in targeted symptoms for adults with eczema.
Some forms of massage can be profoundly calming and relaxing, reducing the stress in general. Combining massage with essential oils can have a variety of effects, depending on the oil chosen. Massage with essential oils may cause significant improvement in symptoms for children with eczema. It is important to remember; however, that essential oils can sometimes cause contact dermatitis, so oils should always be tested in small amounts on patches of skin, and should be used under the direction of a trained professional. Essential oils, such as lavender oil, should be diluted in carrier oils, as directly adding essential oils to the skin can be very irritating.
Many other forms of treatment exist that can help a patient to cope with eczema. A comprehensive review of randomized controlled trials showed that there is some evidence to support the use of stress-reducing therapies like hypnosis, and acupuncture or acupressure could be used to reduce the symptoms of eczema. Most of these treatments still require more in-depth evaluation and research, but may still prove a worthwhile approach to those suffering from the emotional stress of this chronic condition.
In 2007, researchers published a meta-analysis review of journal articles published between 1986 and 2006 that used psychological interventions for atopic dermatitis. The review demonstrated that the different psychological interventions had significant benefits on eczema severity, but went on to say that definite conclusions about effectiveness could not be made without more studies which utilize more sophisticated methods of evaluation.
Learn more about eczema from dermatologist Dr. Vivian Shi.