Because COVID-19 is a new virus that has spread around the world at an unprecedented rate, experts are currently still coming to grips with its nature, mechanisms and development. And while government and health organizations are doing their best to provide us with reliable and up-to-date reports, the truth is, information and advice on COVID-19 are changing by the minute.
Meanwhile, trying to regain a sense of normality amidst a global pandemic is easier said than done – least of all for those suffering from chronic skin conditions like eczema. With face coverings and hand-sanitizing increasing and intensifying flare-ups, along with the ambiguous notion that having eczema can increase the risk of contracting the coronavirus, and social distancing causing feelings of angst and isolation, it can certainly take its toll on an eczema sufferer (arguably, more so than those that don’t have the condition).
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Living with eczema in times of such uncertainty can leave you anxious, stressed, and with a lot of valid questions – the answers for which are hard to come by. So to put your mind at ease, keep flare-ups at bay, and ultimately help you adjust to this new normal, continue reading to find responses to some of the most common queries about eczema and COVID-19.
How can I keep my hands clean without triggering or exacerbating my eczema?
To mitigate the spread of the coronavirus, we are all being advised to wash and sanitize our hands repeatedly throughout the day. Harsh soaps and alcohol-based hand gels can leave even those that have healthy skin with dryness and irritation; but for an eczema sufferer, it can worsen their symptoms of dry, cracked skin and trigger extremely painful flare-ups.
In this current climate, there’s no getting around regular hand-washing and sanitizing, so it is important that you follow proper protocol to avoid further inflammation. Once you’ve washed your hands, always gently pat them dry as opposed to rubbing them as this will only further aggravate your sensitive skin. Generally, soap and warm water are preferred over hand gels, but there are times when using the latter is your only option, so think about carrying a pocket-size moisturizer with you to use as and when you need it.
Moisturize after each time you wash or sanitize your hands to protect the skin’s outer layer and prevent infection. Emollient moisturizers are best for alleviating the dryness and soreness of eczema, as they help restore the skin’s barrier and lock in moisture.
It’s also a good idea to apply a generous amount of emollient just before bedtime to rehydrate the skin overnight. If you’re dealing with detergents or cleaning products that contain irritants and harsh chemicals, always wear nitrile gloves to protect your skin. In more severe cases of hand eczema that cannot be treated with emollient alone, speak with your doctor about using a topical steroid cream to reduce the inflammation.
I have eczema and am finding it difficult to avoid touching my face. What can I do?
Any eczema sufferer will vouch just how difficult it is to keep their hands away from their face, particularly when an irksome itch emerges, and someone telling you not to scratch your face will only want to make you do it more.
The advice of not touching your face is warranted and should be adhered to as much as possible, as the virus can easily enter your body through the nose, eyes, or mouth; however, it is simply not practical in the case of someone with facial eczema.
The key to getting around this problem is to keep the hands and face clean at all times by regularly washing them with soap and water (mainly after being outdoors), thereby keeping them free from the virus or any other contaminants – just be sure to moisturize afterwards to ease the drying effects.
Other than that, when out in public, steer clear of touching surfaces, but if this cannot be helped, always remember to thoroughly wash and moisturize your hands as soon as possible. You could also try mindfulness techniques to help you become aware anytime your hands start to creep towards your face and, essentially, do what you can to keep your hands busy.
Will open cracks and lesions from my eczema increase my risk of contracting the coronavirus?
Due to the relatively new and unique nature of this virus, it is still currently unclear whether or not open and cracked skin can increase a person’s susceptibility to it. However, experts agree that the virus appears to spread through the sneeze and cough droplets of an infected person that enter the airways of people nearby via their mouth, nose and eyes. So, while cracked and damaged skin is more prone to bacteria and infection, so far, it seems unlikely that it could increase the risk of contracting or spreading COVID-19.
How can I prevent my facemask from causing my eczema to flare?
The skin on our face can be especially sensitive and wearing a mask can cause further irritation and trigger a flare-up, especially if you already have active eczema on your face. Whether they’re lightweight and disposable or reusable cotton ones, masks retain warmth and moisture around the mouth. Each time we breathe out, the air pushes back onto our face, instead of dispersing, which makes itching worse; this increase in temperature and humidity, in turn, aggravates eczema and can become a breeding ground for bacteria if the mask is left on for too long.
As you put on and take off your mask several times throughout the day, the skin repeatedly becomes warm and wet followed by cool and dry, which gradually wears down the skin’s protective barrier. What’s more, the friction from the masks can cause irritation, particularly around the bridge of the nose and top of the ears, which can set off eczema in these areas.
Here’s what you can do to reduce the risk of a flare-up:
- 100% cotton face coverings are considered the most eczema-friendly and can be washed regularly; opt for ones that have cotton ear loops rather than elastic ones to prevent irritation. Another idea is to use masks where the elastic loops around a button or can be tied around the back of your head.
- Always make sure that your mask fits comfortably around your face – not too tight that it pulls on your ears or rubs against your nose.
- Apply a thin layer of light moisturizer before and after wearing your face covering to provide a protective barrier between your skin and the mask.
- Avoid wearing masks that contain a metal wire or a glue strip around the nose and cheek area.
- If you still find that your face is flaring up, treat it with a mild topical corticosteroid for a few days.
- Only wear masks for short periods of time and when it is absolutely necessary. If your eczema is particularly severe and wearing a mask makes it worse, you may be exempt from wearing one – check your state government guidelines to clarify this.
People with compromised immune systems are at a greater risk for COVID-19. Does this include people with eczema?
Eczema is an autoimmune disorder; a person who suffers from the condition has an overactive immune system, as opposed to one that is compromised. So far, research does not indicate that those with eczema have a higher risk of contracting the coronavirus or developing severe complications from it than the general population.
With that said, many people with eczema are often prescribed medication that suppresses the immune system and its ability to fight infections and diseases, such as prednisone, cyclosporine, methotrexate, azathioprine, or mycophenolate. This suggests that such patients may be at increased risk of contracting COVID-19, although it is not yet fully known whether this is the case. As a precautionary measure, it is best that people taking such drugs limit their interactions with others by staying at home when possible and avoiding unnecessary travel.
How can I reduce the stress and anxiety around COVID-19?
Such unnerving and uncertain times can, understandably, lead to feelings of stress, fear, worry, and anxiety. Fortunately, there are many things you can do to effectively relieve your stress and help you cope during COVID-19:
- Try relaxation techniques like mindfulness, meditation, deep breathing, yoga, guided imagery, and muscle relaxation
- Keep in touch with family and friends via phone, video calls, and social media; sharing your feelings of anxiety with them can help you manage it better
- Join an online support group or get in touch with a helpline where you can share your concerns and find solace in knowing that you’re not alone in this pandemic
- Be mindful of the information you’re consuming. With the Internet, it’s far too easy to fall victim to misinformation and rumors; only read and share information from credible sources. Also, think about limiting the amount of time you spend each day reading, watching, or listening to coverage on the coronavirus outbreak.
- Exercise regularly to boost your happy hormones
- Get plenty of sleep to regulate your stress levels
- Eat a healthy, well-balanced diet full of vitamins and essential minerals to boost your immune system
- Avoid self-medicating with drugs or excessive alcohol consumption; this may provide temporary relief but could leave you worse-off in the long-run.
- Focus on doing things you enjoy like taking up a hobby, going for walks in nature, or listening to music – this will help keep your mind from drifting to anxious thoughts and feelings.
- Jones, K. 2020, Ask the Ecz-perts: Coronavirus (COVID-19), National Eczema Association, viewed 10th September 2020, https://nationaleczema.org/ate-COVID-19/
- National Eczema Society 2020, Advice on Coronavirus for People with Eczema, viewed 10th September 2020, https://eczema.org/blog/advice-on-coronavirus-COVID-19-for-people-with-eczema/
- Silverberg, J. 2020, Eczema, Hand-washing and the New Coronavirus (COVID-19): Protecting Yourself and Your Skin, Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, viewed 10th September 2020, https://community.aafa.org/blog/eczema-wash-hands-coronavirus-COVID19-prevention