I Tried Wet Wrap Therapy for Eczema, and it Helped Reset My Skin
Thatâ€™s when Mary Elizabethâ€™s dermatologist suggested traveling from their home in Lexington, Kentucky, to Denver, for an intensive two-week wet wrap therapy program.
What Is Wet Wrap Therapy for Eczema?
Wet wrap therapy is a treatment option for intense eczema flares that are accompanied by itching or pain. â€œWet wraps work for moderate to severe atopic dermatitis,â€ says Kanwaljit Brar, MD, a pediatric allergist and immunologist at National Jewish Health in Denver, where Mary Elizabeth received her treatment. (Dr. Brar didnâ€™t treat her, however.) The therapy isnâ€™t designed for mild cases. â€œItâ€™s considered a rescue therapy, so itâ€™s something we do to rescue the skin,â€ Brar says. â€œI like to think of it as a skin reset.â€
The therapy involves wrapping the affected areas of skin with damp fabric, either for a couple of hours during the day or overnight, which Brar says is the most effective and the most convenient for busy families. The therapy is generally used for a couple of days, according to Seattle Childrenâ€™s, though Brar says it could be used for up to two weeks for severe cases.
What Are the Benefits of Wet Wrap Therapy?
The goal of the treatment, according to the National Eczema Association, is to rehydrate the skin and make medications soak in more effectively. Brar says it helps restore the skin barrier, reduces water loss, helps heal the abrasions and crusty areas on the skin, and can treat inflammation if the skin is infected. â€œIt also serves as a physical barrier, so by covering the area, it can prevent scratching as well,â€ she says.
Wet wrap therapy is often used on children, which parents can administer at home, but it can work for adults, too. Itâ€™s just a little more cumbersome given the larger bodies and bigger surface area to treat, Brar says.
How to Do Wet Wrap Therapy at Home
Essentially, youâ€™ll apply medication or moisturizer to the affected areas and then wrap the body (or part of the body) with a damp layer followed by a dry layer.
Hereâ€™s how a full body wet wrap is done, per Seattle Childrenâ€™s, the National Eczema Association, and Brar:
- Place a bowl or bucket next to the bathtub. Fill it with warm water and the clothes youâ€™ll use for the wet layer. It should be something tight fitting, like thermal underwear.
- Have the patient soak in a warm-water bathtub. After 15 to 20 minutes, lightly pat the skin dry.
- Apply topical steroid treatment or moisturizer to the affected area. (Your doctor can help you determine which to use and how much.)
- Put the wet layer on the body. Wring the clothes out first so theyâ€™re slightly damp, not soaking wet.
- Add a dry layer. That could include sweats or loose-fitting pajamas, on top of the wet layer.
Wearing the wet clothes can be uncomfortable â€” Mary Elizabeth recalls feeling freezing cold and wet â€” so Brar recommends putting blankets straight out of the dryer on top of the patient for extra warmth.
You can also apply the wet wrap to just the affected areas, say the knees. Brar says in that case, cut the foot off of long socks and use those tubes as the wet layer. Or, if the eczema is on the face, a nurse can help apply a wrap made of gauze and surgical netting, according to National Jewish Health. Brar says to be careful when applying a face wrap to children â€” especially overnight and during naptime â€” because it could shift and end up blocking their nose or mouth.
Mary Elizabethâ€™s skin improved dramatically the first night of the therapy. â€œIt helped so much within 24 hours,â€ she says. â€œI woke up and it felt tremendously better.â€
What Are the Potential Risks of Using Wet Wrap Therapy?
The same study noted that in practice, wet wrap therapy is a safe intervention treatment. If youâ€™re unsure of how to go about it or want more guidance, speak with a doctor first.
As Mary Elizabeth knows, wearing wet clothes can induce chilling. That was the only side effect noted in a previous study, though Mary Elizabeth says it was still worth it.
How Mary Elizabeth Is Coping With Eczema Today
Mary Elizabeth is no longer scratching her skin continuously throughout the day. â€œI really feel the wet wrap therapy brought her to a level where she could concentrate and she could function like a normal person,â€ Christina says, adding that Mary Elizabethâ€™s overall well-being improved â€” and her grades have, too. â€œTeachers noticed, myself and my husband noticed, and she noticed that she was able to concentrate more and the improvement was definitely there in all areas of her life.â€
Mary Elizabeth has regained self-confidence, too. â€œ[My boyfriend] told me when I came back from Denver that he knew I was a changed person because I was just happy in my skin.â€
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