Scratch, scratch, scratch. That is the sound of eczema, and anyone who suffers from the condition knows that sound all too well. Nobody knows exactly what causes eczema. It could be genetics. It could be allergies. Or it could be caused when skin is exposed to certain irritants such as soaps, disinfectants, hot weather or cigarette smoke. Regardless of the cause, the condition itself is marked by dry, red, thickened patches of skin that are almost unbearably itchy.

Eczema is not contagious, but it is very common. According to the National Eczema Association, 31.6 million Americans suffer from eczema. In children, the ratio is as high as one in three. That's a lot of itching and scratching! The good news is that there are a number of natural ways to relieve the symptoms of eczema at home. Here are a few to try: 

1. Reduce stress. I know, I know. That's easier said than done. But research shows that stress triggers or aggravates eczema. So if the condition is plaguing you, it makes sense to minimize stress as much as possible. Cognitive behavioral therapy may help you learn new techniques for dealing with the stressors in your life.

2. Avoid irritants. Foods such as tomatoes, dairy products, nuts, fish and eggs have been known to aggravate eczema. So has exposure to wool, synthetic fibers, pollen, pet dander, cosmetics, detergents, certain soaps, cigarette smoke and sand. Learn which triggers affect you and make an effort to avoid them.

3. Slather on the oil. Many eczema sufferers swear by the moisturizing powers of coconut oil and/or jojoba oil to heal eczema flare-ups. Rub it on the affected areas to prevent itching and repeat throughout the day if necessary.

4. Sow your oats. Oatmeal in the tub is not only moisturizing, it also has anti-inflammatory properties that may help relieve the redness and itching of eczema. Pour about one cup of rolled oats into some cheesecloth and toss in the bath. Soak in the milky, smooth water for 10-15 minutes.

5. Make time for tea. If oatmeal doesn't work for you, or if you want to try something else, check out chamomile tea. Put some dried tea leaves in cheesecloth and toss it in the bath. Soak for 10-15 minutes.

6. Get fishy. Research has shown that people who took a fish oil supplement experienced fewer eczema symptoms after 12 weeks than those who took a placebo. Fish oil may help heal your skin from the inside out by reducing the inflammation that can lead to itching. But talk to you doctor before adding any kind of supplement to your diet. 

7. Go for the sweet stuff.  Honey has both moisturizing and anti-inflammatory properties that are great for reducing the symptoms of eczema. Unfortunately, it is way too sticky to cover large patches of eczema. But if you have a small, irritated patch of skin, it may benefit from a dab of honey.

8. Heal blisters and open sores with witch hazel. All of the itching and scratching that comes along with eczema can lead to oozing blisters and open sores. To heal these wounds, you could try applying witch hazel — either by itself or as part of a paste made with natural green clay.

9. Probiotics. Research is divided on the effectiveness of using probiotics to treat eczema. But it may be worth a try if other methods don't seem to be effective. Probiotics can be found in supplements or in foods such as yogurt, kefir, kimchi or miso. 

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