Red Skin Syndrome (RSS) Causes and Treatment Options
Anyone who suffers from eczema (or knows someone who does), knows just how frustrating and embarrassing the condition can be. What they might not realize is that some of the most common treatments for eczema can actually escalate the issue and lead to further skin problems.
Red Skin Syndrome (or RSS for short), is one problem that can arise as a direct result of certain eczema treatments.
Read on for information on Red Skin Syndrome, what causes it and what to use for it, plus alternative treatment options for eczema that can help you and your loved ones avoid it. The video at the end provides additional information on resources and support.
What are the most common traditional treatments for eczema?
Although there’s no true cure for eczema (atopic dermatitis), the condition’s symptoms can be treated and managed.
Oftentimes, doctors will prescribe steroid creams and ointments to patients with eczema. These creams and ointments are usually very effective for relieving some of the primary symptoms of eczema, like inflammation, itch and discomfort.
While both over-the-counter and prescription steroid creams can help with eczema symptoms, these treatments are not without their concerns.
How do steroid creams treat eczema?
Steroid creams and ointments are applied directly to the affected areas of the skin and can help alleviate some of the main symptoms of eczema.
Topical corticosteroid creams are effective in helping to treat eczema symptoms because they are a type of anti-inflammatory medication, and inflammation is a key component of eczema.
What are the different strengths of steroid creams?
When it comes to steroid creams, the options can be overwhelming. There are more than 30 different kinds of topical corticosteroids, varying in potency from low to ultra-high. The are categorized from Class I for the strongest versions to Class 7 for the mildest.
Many eczema sufferers start with a low-dose over-the-counter version such as hydrocortisone 1%. They may gradually be moved up to stronger, prescription strength formulas as tolerance builds to the weaker versions.
It’s important to note, however, that even low potency steroids can cause serious side effects, especially if used long-term.
What side effects are associated with long-term steroid cream use?
Often, eczema patients will start their treatment journey with a low dose steroid cream. While this is typically an effective way to treat eczema when its first prescribed, over time low dose steroid creams may become less effective, prompting patients to move on to a more potent option.
After a while, these steroid creams can lead to side effects including changes in skin pigmentation and small blisters.
With extended use, the skin can build up tolerance or even become addicted to these steroids, rendering them less effective in treating the symptoms of eczema. What’s more, because of the side effects that sometimes come along with using steroid creams, some patients want to use them less—or not at all.
This is where Red Skin Syndrome comes in—and, unfortunately, it can be even more debilitating than eczema.
What Is Red Skin Syndrome?
Red Skin Syndrome is a painful skin reaction that results most often from discontinuation of steroid creams after long term use. It causes red, itching, burning skin.
The symptoms, which can be more severe than those caused by eczema, often show up after a patient stops using topical steroid creams, but they can also arise in between treatments, even if steroid creams are still being used intermittently.
Anyone who uses topical steroid creams can develop Red Skin Syndrome, but the problem is particularly common among eczema patients, who, as a group, are more likely to use these treatments frequently and over extended periods of time.
Is Red Skin Syndrome known by any other names?
Red Skin Syndrome has only recently been given its name, and you may have heard it referred to as Topical Steroid Addiction (TSA) or Topical Steroid Withdrawal (TSW)—both of which are very similar conditions to RSS. For more information on the nuanced differences between the three conditions, see itsan.org’s breakdown.
Can steroid creams treat Red Skin Syndrome?
Even though RSS is frequently triggered by withdrawal from steroid creams, they aren’t a great treatment option for the condition. While it’s possible that resuming the steroid cream treatment could lessen RSS symptoms in the short-term, in the long run, it will only make the problem worse.
How do you cure Red Skin Syndrome?
There is no quick “cure” for RSS—the only way to truly recover from the condition is to give it time and resist the urge to return to using steroid creams. As with eczema, while there’s no cure per se, patients with RSS can treat the condition’s symptoms.
Your doctor can prescribe treatments to address physical and emotional comfort, function and infection control.
Once the withdrawal phase is complete, most patients report full remission from the condition. Patience is required, though, as it can take up to a year or even more for the symptoms to resolve.
What should I do if I think I have Red Skin Syndrome?
If you suspect that you or someone you care about might be suffering from RSS, you should talk to your doctor. While the best long-term solution for RSS is to stop using topical steroids, this can be dangerous to do on your own, depending on how adjusted your body is to the treatment.
If your adrenal glands are severely depressed, stopping use of the steroid cream abruptly can put you at risk of adrenal crisis, which is life-threatening. Your doctor will be able to run tests to help determine your cortisol levels and adrenal function and work with you on a withdrawal plan based on those results.
Considering the many potential drawbacks of long-term steroid cream use, many people with eczema look for alternative forms of treatment.
What products should people with Red Skin Syndrome use?
Skin that is inflamed and delicate due to RSS needs to be treated with products that won’t cause further damage. Emu oil is an effective option to use during and after the withdrawal period. It is hypoallergenic, non-comedogenic so won’t clog pores, is highly moisturizing and penetrates into all seven layers of the skin so help heal from within.
When choosing an emu oil, especially for Red Skin Syndrome, it’s important to make sure that it is a high quality, 100% emu oil product. Emu oil that is certified by the AEA has been tested for purity and lipid values, so look for the AEA seal.
Emu oil is a natural treatment option for eczema
Emu oil is also an excellent, all-natural and chemical free alternative treatment for eczema. Studies have shown that emu oil significantly improves itching, erythema, and scales associated with eczema.
The oil itself is a great source of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), antioxidants, and compounds, like omega-3, omega 6, and omega-9 fatty acids, and vitamin A, which work together to target many of the issues caused by eczema.
Why is emu oil one of the best natural eczema treatments?
Emu oil is known for its amazing moisturizing and anti-inflammatory effects, both of which contribute to its effectiveness in treating eczema, which often leaves skin dry, itchy, and inflamed.
There’s science behind emu oil’s effectiveness in treating eczema (and in nourishing the skin in general). Emu oil is made up of smaller particles than many other topical creams, which allows it to penetrate deeper layers of the skin and deliver more significant benefits.
In addition, because it is an animal-derived oil, it is very similar in chemical composition to human skin oil, so the skin doesn't put up any barrier to absorption and it is able to penetrate deeply.
How to use emu oil to treat eczema
When treating eczema with emu oil, wash the affected area with a mild soap formulated for sensitive skin, gently towel dry, and then immediately apply emu oil to the area. This will help rehydrate the skin and reduce symptoms like itching and inflammation that often lead people with eczema to scratch their skin and worsen the issue.
Video on Topical Steroid Withdrawal
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