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  5. Skin Inflammation: What, Why & How To Treat


How often have you had a rash, itching or blister on your skin? Most of us have experienced skin inflammation at some point in our lives. But did you know that it is a way for your skin to tell that your immune system is responding to a certain dysfunction, allergic reaction, or infection?

Skin inflammation usually occurs as a sign of the immune system’s fight against foreign attackers. Let’s look at all its causes, prevention techniques and treatments suggested by our chief dermatologist Dr. Harish Koutam, an accredited member of the Indian Association of Dermatologists, Venereologists and Leprologists (IADVL) and Cosmetic Surgeons of India.

What Is Skin Inflammation?

Skin inflammation is also known as dermatitis. Signs that imply skin inflammation are primarily rash, red patches or even a breakout like blisters or abscess. A rash caused by inflammation is usually stinging, burning or itching when touched.

Sometimes the outbreak is smooth or raised like pimples and blisters. The skin can turn red and be hot to touch. It could also crack and bleed in some rashes or become rough and scaly.

Word Of Caution:

Any chronic inflammation, that lasts beyond a few weeks should not be ignored as it can indicate the presence of diseases like cancer and arthritis.

What Causes Skin Inflammation?

When there is an infection in the body, or an allergic reaction or even a latent disease or illness, skin inflammation is considered to be one of the reactions of the immune system. When the immune system malfunctions, it can cause a reaction like in the case of psoriasis.

Genetics and bacteria in the skin can also cause skin inflammation as in the case of eczema. An allergic reaction to foods like seafood or medicines can cause skin inflammation as well. For example, when people suffering from Celiac disease [1] consume gluten foods like wheat, the reaction on their skin is known as dermatitis herpetiformis.

A reaction to ingredients in cosmetic products or perfumes can cause a breakout; while the skin inflammation due to contact with poison ivy is well known. Bacterial or fungal infections like ringworm are also known to cause skin inflammation.

Being in the sunlight, especially for those suffering from the autoimmune disease Lupus [2] can cause a rash or skin inflammation. Heat rash is also a form of skin inflammation where being outdoors in the heat makes the sweat get caught in the pores, causing a rash.

How Do You Treat Inflamed Skin?

Inflamed skin can be treated with various topical treatments and even home remedies depending on the severity or cause of the rash. It is best advised to consult a dermatologist when a rash persists for more than 24 hours.

1. Medical Treatments

A. Topical:

These are treatments which can be applied onto the skin directly. They include antibacterial or antifungal creams; corticosteroids which reduce the inflammation, calamine lotions or anti-itch creams that have hydrocortisone as an ingredient to reduce itching. Immunomodulators which are directed at the immune system are also an option.

B. Oral:

Oral medications for skin inflammation have to be taken on a doctor’s prescription only. For some allergic reactions, generic antihistamines are prescribed, as are oral antibiotics and antifungal tablets for bacterial infections. For more severe conditions like psoriasis, the dermatologist might prescribe an injection.

2. Medicinal Plants

The use of plants and their extracts to treat skin inflammation has proved to yield positive results. Matricaria (chamomile) and calendula (marigold) [3] flowers are extensively used in treating skin inflammation and conditions such as eczema and dermatitis.

Other plants used to treat skin inflammation include aloe vera, witch hazel, yarrow and evening primrose oil, etc. Also, herbs like fenugreek seed, ribwort plantain leaf/herb, purple coneflower sage leaf, St John’s wort – all have anti-inflammatory properties.

3. Home Remedies

Girl showing orange with smily face

Some cases of skin inflammation can be treated temporarily with the help of home remedies. However, these are only meant for topical relief for a brief period. Persisting conditions must be treated by a dermatologist.

Some of the options are:

A. Cold Compress:

A cold and wet compress can help ease the itching and redness. Soak a clean napkin in cold water or use an ice pack on the affected area for relief. A bath with a hypoallergenic soap or made with anti-inflammatory ingredients can also reduce the inflammation.

B. Oil Massage:

Tea tree oil is very effective in dealing with skin inflammation due to its antimicrobial qualities. It is also anti-inflammatory, so it can be used with seborrheic dermatitis as well. Massage the oil gently into the scalp and other scaly areas.

C. Diet:

It is important to avoid inflammation causing foods such as margarine, sweetened fizzy drinks and colas, french fries and other fried food, red meat and refined flour used for breads and pastries. These foods are associated with weight gain and in turn inflammation, which leads to chronic diseases like diabetes. The following foods can be considered anti-inflammatory as they have antioxidants that reduce inflammation [4]:

  • Tomatoes
  • Olive oil
  • Nuts such as almonds and walnuts
  • Fruits and berries like strawberries, oranges, blueberries, cherries, pineapple and lemon juice
  • Fatty fish such as sardines, mackerel and salmon
  • Greens like spinach and kale

When To Consult Your Doctor?

If you have skin inflammation, and it spreads into a rash all over the body or forms blisters, consult your doctor. Secondly, if the inflammation is painful and there is swelling, pus or even bleeding, consult a dermatologist. If there is fever as well, see a doctor immediately.

Tips For Skin Inflammation

  • Always avoid eating foods that you have an allergy to.
  • Wear clothes that are smooth and soft, preferably made from natural fibres like cotton and hemp.
  • Exercise or meditate to keep your stress levels down.
  • Carry an antihistamine or anti-allergy medication when you travel.
  • At times, exposure of affected areas to light might also help.
  • Take a vitamin D supplement as it can relieve the inflammation, especially in conditions like eczema.

What Are Inflammatory Skin Conditions?

Some of the common types of dermatitis include atopic eczema; psoriasis [5]; stasis dermatitis which is inflammation of the skin in the lower half of the legs due to fluid retention and seborrheic dermatitis, where the skin breaks out into scaly patches on the scalp. Any rash caused by contact with certain substances or plants like poison ivy is called contact dermatitis.

Wrapping Up

Inflammation of the skin can have many causes, from infections to allergic reactions. It is important to get to the root of it and treat it accordingly with the right topical, oral, herbal and home treatments. Do not forget to consult your doctor before going for treatments.

Begin By Knowing Your Skin

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