If you’re one of the 31 million people in the US who have the painful, itchy skin condition called eczema, there’s a new tool for your treatment toolbox—your smartphone. You can now download Eczema Doc, a free, patient-friendly medical app created by dermatologists at UT Southwestern Medical Center.
But can you really trust your skin to an app? To find out, we spoke with dermatologist Ronald R. Brancaccio, MD, clinical professor of dermatology at New York University School of Medicine.
“It’s one of the good ones,” says Dr. Brancaccio, who has no connection, financial or otherwise, to the app or its developer. He’s enthusiastic about the app and recommends it to his patients. Unlike a lot of medical apps on the market that aren’t particularly thorough or useful, he says, Eczema Doc gives users information that is practical, evidence based and well-referenced, including an overview of eczema, treatment options, recommended treatments, helpful websites, a quick reference section and links to references for more information. And it answers many questions that his eczema patients often ask in between doctor visits.
HOW TO MANAGE ECZEMA THE RIGHT WAY
For people with eczema, getting good advice in real time can make the difference between a condition that you can control and one that keeps getting worse, says Dr. Brancaccio. Even if you have a dermatologist who is open to frequent phone calls or e-mails and can respond relatively quickly, there’s no substitute for getting good answers—and practical help—right away.
Here’s why: While eczema is a general term for many forms of skin irritation, it most often refers to the red, scaly and very itchy inflammation called atopic dermatitis. Scratching the inflamed patches only makes them itch more and makes the skin more vulnerable to bacteria and viruses. So finding safe ways to ease symptoms at the moment that you are having a flare-up is essential.
Here’s what Eczema Doc provides that Dr. Brancaccio especially likes…
- A list of recommended mild cleansers and moisturizers that are free of added fragrances that can irritate. Dr. Brancaccio recommends many of the same brands to his patients. (Note: While all of the brands, including Eucerin, CeraVe, Vanicream and Cetaphil, are specifically formulated for sensitive skin, they may contain controversial preservatives such as parabens. The app also recommends brands that offer paraben-free products, including Dove and Aveeno.)
- Good advice about over-the-counter steroid creams. It’s fine to use these for mild eczema, but for more serious cases, or when your skin problems are not improving, talk to your doctor about prescription medications such as stronger steroid creams, oral steroids or other types of drugs.
- For flare-up care, the app gives detailed information about treatments such as wet wraps (used to seal in moisture, allowing medications and moisturizers to work more efficiently) and bleach baths (soaking in a tub filled with water with a small amount of bleach—one-half cup for a full tub—to kill bacteria that can cause infection and complicate eczema). The app provides step-by-step instructions for both treatments along with illustrations.
Eczema Doc is a useful little app for the millions of Americans with eczema, who can now get help that’s always there when they need it. But it is also part of a medical research project designed to measure how useful the app is for patients. When you first open it, you’ll get a screen that allows you to have the app send information, anonymously, to researchers about how you use it. You can opt out, but why not help them build a better app for both doctors and patients?