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WINTER SKIN - MANAGING ECZEMAWINTER SKIN - MANAGING ECZEMA

Many allergic skin conditions can get worse in cold weather. People take hotter showers in winter, which dries out the skin. Skin tends to lose water through evaporation as well due to the difference between the inside and outside air temperatures. Dryness worsens eczema and even people without underlying skin conditions can find themselves with dry, itchy skin.

Heidi Darcy, clinical advisor at Comvita, explains: "Dry, itchy skin is a hallmark of eczema. It occurs when there is a lack of moisture in the top layer of skin. Healthy skin has plentiful oils that envelop the cells; keeping the skin soft and flexible, sealing in water.

When skin lacks sufficient oils, large amounts of water can escape. The surface becomes dry, inflexible, and itchy. Cooler weather aggravates dry skin as low humidity causes more water to evaporate."

A recent survey from Allergy UK showed that cold weather was the single biggest trigger for eczema, followed by house dust mites and pets. The research found that 91 percent of those with eczema say their skin dries out more in winter, while 77 percent say their skin itches more.

Eczema affects up to 10 percent of adults and 20 percent of school children. The condition is characterised by inflammation of the skin with intense itching, reddening, dryness, scaling and sore broken skin.

One in five of those surveyed say they stay indoors when their skin is bad. Allergy UK says that people suffering from skin conditions often mistakenly think staying indoors is the solution, but it's not.

Maureen Jenkins, Clinical Director of Allergy UK, said: "Cold weather is often the initial trigger of a skin condition, so the natural thing to do is retreat indoors and keep warm. But central heating and lack of ventilation will inevitably make skin conditions worse. The indoor environment creates an ideal breeding ground for house dust mites which in turn can exacerbate symptoms."

If you are suffering from eczema, Allergy UK advises:

Itchy Kids is a New Zealand-based support group for parents of children with eczema. The aim is to offer much needed moral and practical support so families can look after themselves and each other. The Itchy Kids website has lots of useful information about managing eczema as well as a list of useful links for more information. The Kiwi support group was first set up in Wellington in 2004 and continues to be run by parents. There is also an Auckland-based group. See www.itchykids.org.nz.

Eczema Care NZ was set up last year as a private Facebook page for people with eczema and/ or their carers. It's a place for people to share experiences, vent about problems, ask for help, share recipes and more. Go to Facebook and search for Eczema Care NZ and ask to join. The group already has over 110 members in New Zealand.

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Issue: Summer-Autumn 2015