Managing Severe Eczema While Traveling


Even if you’re a well-seasoned traveler, going on a trip can be stressful: Flights can be canceled or delayed, you may have to lug around heavy suitcases, and the weather can throw a wrench in your plans. And, that’s without accounting for managing a chronic health condition through it all.

One such health issue that can interfere with your carefully laid plans is severe atopic dermatitis, a type of eczema. The inflammatory skin condition causes dry, itchy skin; rashes; skin discoloration; and patches of skin that can ooze and crust over, according to the National Eczema Association (NEA).

The Challenge of Severe Atopic Dermatitis While Traveling

Traveling can present issues that are especially tough for people with eczema.

First, depending on where you’re going, there’s the potential for a drastic change in climate, which can aggravate your skin and trigger a flare. That applies whether you’re going to a hot, humid climate or a cold, dry one.

“If you’re traveling somewhere cold, or somewhere like the desert, where there’s not a lot of ambient humidity, your skin can dry out and feel different,” says Suzanne Friedler, MD, a clinical instructor of dermatology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and a dermatologist at Advanced Dermatology in New York City.

In addition, if you’re used to a more temperate climate and go to a very hot and humid one, that can trigger eczema symptoms, including rashes, according to the NEA.

If you have severe eczema, including atopic dermatitis, you may also be susceptible to environmental or food allergies, which can appear while traveling — particularly if you’re not familiar with the destination and its food culture.

“There are different allergies in different areas,” says Mohammad Jafferany, MD, a professor of psychiatry, psychodermatology, and behavioral sciences at Central Michigan University College of Medicine in Saginaw and the executive secretary of the Association for Psychoneurocutaneous Medicine of North America. “That can include the pollen in the air, allergies from going to a forest or going through a jungle, and allergies to unfamiliar food and drinks.”

Finally, atopic dermatitis can be triggered by emotional stress, which can go hand in hand with travel, because of flight cancellations, a missed connecting flight, lost luggage, and other travel hazards.

How to Make Travel Easier With Eczema

To make your journey as smooth as possible, it’s important to know your own atopic dermatitis triggers and minimize them by preparing as much as you can before you even leave the house. Here are some tips:

  1. Bring all of your eczema medications. Even if you’re flying, you can bring your prescription medications with you. “Always make sure that either you have a supply of your medications available in the area where you’re traveling to or you have them with you,” Dr. Jafferany says. “Medications are usually allowed in the airport if you have a prescription available to show the [Transportation Security Administration] employees.” If you’re going on a shorter trip, you can also opt to put your creams and lotions in a travel-safe container of three ounces or less. If you’re traveling by means other than an airplane, you should be fine to bring your medications as they are, but it’s always best to check ahead of time.
  2. Skip the hotel soaps and lotions. Harsh creams and soaps can aggravate all forms of eczema, so unless a product is labeled for sensitive skin, it’s probably best to opt for your own tried-and-true cleansing and moisturizing items. Although you may not be able to bring them with you in your carry-on, you should make sure to pack the moisturizers you use at home in your checked bag, so you have access to them on your trip. Moisturizers are an important part of an atopic dermatitis treatment plan, along with medications, experts say.
  3. Limit your time in the water. Going for a swim? The local water may be harder or softer than at home, which can irritate your skin, says Dr. Friedler. Rinse off after you get out of the water, and take short, lukewarm showers, as you would at home. Remember to moisturize your skin after drying off. If chlorine-rich water triggers a flare, minimize your time in the pool, too, she says. “If your skin is healthy, you might be able to tolerate a pool, but you have to really listen to your body. What works for one person is not necessarily going to work for the next person.”
  4. Keep your skin dry, but moisturized enough. “If you’re in a really hot climate, wear cotton clothes that are loose and light colors — fabrics that’ll wick away sweat,” says Friedler. If you’re going to a dry climate, consider bringing a humidifier with you, or call ahead to ask your hotel if they have one you can use. The goal is to keep your skin moisturized enough to avoid triggering your eczema while minimizing exposure to sweat and potentially harmful water.
  5. Plan ahead for food and drink allergies. If your eczema is triggered by food or drink allergies, research the options at your destination ahead of time. It’s also a good idea to bring some of your own food, in case you need it, says Jafferany.
  6. Take your time. Remember to give yourself plenty of time to get to your plane (or other mode of transportation) and go through security checks. Research your destination, so you’ll know what to expect, the NEA advises. Plan some activities, but also try to manage your expectations if things go differently, because travel is an adventure. “Traveling itself is a huge stress for many people,” says Jafferany, “from anticipating the travel to actually going through the trip.”


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