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Medications for eczema

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In this article

Oral medications to treat eczema
Immunosuppressant drugs for eczema
New injectable medications for eczema
Medicated soap and shampoos for skin and scalp eczema
How to eliminate eczema without medications

What’s available, how they work and what to consider

Having eczema can feel like a never ending cycle of skin irritation, redness, intense itching and sometimes skin infections. Different types of eczema have different causes and treating eczema can be a case of using the right skincare to having to use daily medicated topical creams.

Sometimes, oral medications can help to treat eczema. In this article, we look at eczema causes, the oral treatments available for different eczema types, how they work and what side effects may be associated with them so that you can make an informed choice about your eczema treatment.

Oral medications to treat eczema

The main groups of oral medications used to treat eczema are corticosteroids, antibiotics, immunosuppressing drugs and antihistamines. Some of them, such as antihistamines, are available over the counter from your pharmacist. But others tend to be prescription only oral medications for eczema, available from your doctor or dermatologist.

Oral corticosteroids for eczema

Many eczema treatments involve applying corticosteroids to the areas of skin affected by eczema. They work similarly to a hormone in the body called cortisone. Cortisone helps to control levels of inflammation in the body and corticosteroids do the same thing.

The less inflammation in the body, the better eczema symptoms tend to be. For more information see our page dedicated to topical treatments for eczema.

In very rare cases, where topical corticosteroids cannot be used or where eczema flare ups are particularly bad, corticosteroid tablets are prescribed. Corticosteroid tablets work in the same way as corticosteroid creams and ointments but have a stronger effect on the body.

Oral corticosteroid side effects

Usually, a course is only prescribed for five to seven days to help minimise the risk of side effects. The side effects of corticosteroid tablets include mood changes, difficulty sleeping, an increased appetite and weight gain.

The rarer, but more severe side effects of corticosteroids include damage to the eyes, stomach problems, problems with menstruation in women, high blood pressure and problems with brittle bones. These risks are minimised by only taking oral corticosteroids for short periods of time.

If you require oral corticosteroids for long periods of time or very regularly, your GP will more than likely refer you to a skin specialist. Sometimes, corticosteroids can be injected.

Oral antibiotics for eczema

If your eczema has become infected, you may need to take a course of oral antibiotics. You’ll know if your eczema is infected, as it’ll feel hot to the touch and it will be oozing or weeping a clear or yellowy-green fluid.

Most commonly, you’ll be prescribed a form of penicillin called flucloxacillin. If you’re allergic to penicillin, your doctor can prescribe an alternative antibiotic.

Sometimes, oral antibiotics can cause side effects, including an upset stomach, nausea, vomiting and thrush, a yeast infection that can affect the genitals and less commonly, the mouth.

For this reason, it’s advised that you only take antibiotics if your eczema is infected. Otherwise you may risk side effects for no reason, as antibiotics will not help to treat non-infected eczema. They won’t help to relieve itching or redness.

Oral antihistamines for eczema

If your eczema causes your skin to itch intensely, especially so at night, then oral antihistamines might help. Scratching at your skin in your sleep can cause it to bleed and can lead to it becoming infected. It can also cause you to lay awake at night unable to sleep.

Antihistamines work by controlling the amount of histamine released by the immune system. Histamine causes the skin to itch so by blocking it, antihistamines reduce the itching and in return, the need to scratch.

Oral antihistamines side effects

Some antihistamines often also cause drowsiness which is helpful if you need to sleep. Taking them at night can mean that you get a decent nights’ sleep!

Avoid antihistamines with a drowsy effect during the day if you need to work, drive, look after children or generally be alert. Drowsy antihistamines may also cause drowsiness the next day, which is something to be aware of.

Immunosuppressant drugs for eczema

If your eczema is moderate to severe or it’s not responding to treatments available from your pharmacist or GP, you may be referred to a dermatologist. They may then discuss treatments that dampen down your immune system, called immunosuppressant drugs.

There are a range of immunosuppressing oral medications used to treat eczema, including drugs called azathioprine, ciclosporin and methotrexate. They help to treat eczema by stopping your immune system from triggering inflammatory markers which leads to eczema symptoms becoming worse.

They effectively stop the itch-scratch cycle, allowing eczema inflamed skin to calm down and heal.

Immunosuppressant Drugs Side Effects

As you would expect, dampening down the immune system using drugs doesn’t come without side effects. The main side effect from long term use is the risk that you’ll become more susceptible to infections.

Some immunosuppressing drugs can cause an increase in blood pressure and a risk of liver or kidney damage. Some can increase the risk of you developing certain types of cancers.

For these reasons, dermatologists usually only prescribe these types of drugs for a few weeks or months. This should be enough to get severe eczema symptoms under control, so that it can then be managed with less severe drugs and topical creams and ointments.

New injectable medications for eczema

There is a new drug for eczema which is an injectable drug called dupilumab. It works by targeting parts of the immune system that cause the immune response associated with eczema.

It needs to be injected weekly, and the drug companies hope to release the injection in a type that’s easily self-injected. Dupilumab is from a family of drugs called biologics that are created to directly impact the immune system.

As this drug is so new, speak to your GP about its current availability. Early indications suggest that side effects could include eye infections, cold sores and skin reactions where the drug is injected.

Medicated soap and shampoos for skin and scalp eczema

We talk about creams and ointments for eczema on our dedicated Topical Treatments for Eczema page. They include emollients, corticosteroid creams and immunomodulators.

There are also some medicated soaps, body washes and shampoos available if you have eczema and conventional soaps, shower gels and shampoos dry out your skin, making your eczema symptoms worse. These medicated products are usually best used only if your eczema has become infected and it’s weeping, oozing or warm to the touch.

Emollient washes and bath preparations can also help hydrate the skin if conventional soaps dry your skin.

How to eliminate eczema without medications

Here at Sönd we understand skin inside out. We also understand what it’s like to have a skin condition that causes you upset and stress.

That’s why we designed our skincare to help people just like us and just like you. Whilst we can’t promise to heal your eczema completely, our range of alkalising skincare helps to nourish and support healthy skin.

Try our cleansers and moisturisers today and see what they can do for you!

Hannah de Gruchy BSc(Hons)

About Author

Hannah de Gruchy is a freelancer writer who specialises in health and wellness. She has a keen interest in the biology of skin and loves using her words to help separate the real science of skincare from the pseudoscience of some skincare brands. Hannah has a degree in Human Biology and many years’ experience working in laboratories around London. Using this experience, Hannah enjoys turning complex science into interesting, engaging and easy to digest pieces to read. In her spare time, Hannah runs, practices yoga and loves cooking plant based foods.

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