Medical Q&As

Varicose eczema - ongoing care?

I am 28 yrs old and have varicose veins. Due to persistent ulcers I have had the veins removed in my right leg 1 year ago. I suffer from eczema on my left leg as a result of the veins, which is very itchy. I try not to scratch in order not to create another ulcer. I am, and have been for some time treating it with a steroid cream. I have two questions; is it true that this cream used over a prolonged period is carcinogenic and secondly is there any alternative to the steroid cream with the same results as I do find it fairly effective but don't want to continue using it long term.

To answer your first question; there is no evidence that the long-term use of steroid cream can cause cancer. However, long-term use can cause thinning of the skin therefore it is important that steroids be used sparingly. In other words you use the lowest dose possible for the shortest period possible consistent with the objective of eliminating the problem. To answer the second part of your question; steroid creams and ointments are the treatments of choice for treating flare-ups of varicose eczema but for the reasons previously mentioned they should not be used every day in the longer term. You need to adopt a preventive strategy with regard to care of your legs. It is important to keep your skin clean and to treat cuts and scratches promptly in order to prevent infection, which can trigger exacerbations of eczema. It is also important to walk frequently as a form of exercise because this helps to improve the circulation in the legs thereby improving the nutrition of the skin. You should also moisturise your skin on a daily basis, which will help to prevent relapses thereby reducing your need for using steroids. Relapses of eczema should be treated promptly because early intervention will reduce the overall duration of treatment. If a relapse is untreated for several days it can be become more established and more difficult to eliminate.