Eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis, is a chronic inflammation of the outer layers of the skin. This condition is not contagious.
It is sometimes referred to as the itch that rashes.
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The exact cause of eczema is unknown. Factors that may contribute to eczema include:
Factors that increase your chance of eczema:
- Age: 5 years old or younger — eczema becomes less common after the ages of 5-10
- Asthma or
- Urban areas or places with low humidity
- Relatives who have eczema or allergic disorders
- Exposure to certain fabrics, perfumes in soaps, dust mites (common) or foods
- Stress, especially if it leads to scratching
- Frequent washing of affected areas
- Use of rubber gloves in persons sensitive to latex
- Scratching or rubbing of skin
- Race: Black or Asian
- Immunosuppressant medications
The symptoms vary from person to person. Scratching and rubbing can cause or worsen some of the symptoms. Symptoms include:
- Dry, itchy skin
- Cracks behind the ears or in other skin creases
- Red rashes on the cheeks, arms and legs
- Red, scaly skin
- Thick, leathery skin
- Small, raised bumps on the skin
- Crusting, oozing or cracking of the skin
- Symptoms that worsen in the winter when inside air is dry due to central heating
Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. The diagnosis is made by the appearance and location of the rash.You may be referred to specialist. A dermatologist focuses on skin disorders. An allergist focuses on allergies.
The main goals of eczema treatments are to:
- Heal the skin and keep it healthy
- Stop scratching or rubbing
- Avoid skin infection
- Prevent flare-ups
- Recognize and avoid triggers, if there are any
Treatment options may vary. Your doctor may recommend more than one depending on your condition. They include:
- Avoid hot or long baths or showers. Keep them less than 15 minutes.
- Use mild, unscented bar soap or nonsoap cleanser. Use it sparingly.
- Air-dry or gently pat dry after bathing. Apply gentle moisturizer right after.
- Treat skin infections right away.
- Prescription creams and ointments containing cortisone, tacrolimus or pimecrolimus
- Oral medications, such as prednisone or cyclosporine — for severe cases
- Antibiotics applied directly to the skin or taken by mouth — only for treating infections
- Prescription or over-the-counter antihistamines to help prevent itching
- Treatment with ultraviolet A light and 5-methoxypsoralen (PUVA) by a doctor
- Photopheresis — for severe cases
Controlling Your Symptoms
It is difficult to prevent eczema. This is most true when there is a strong family history.
If you already have eczema, there are several things you can do to try to control it:
- Follow guidelines to limit house dust mites, especially in bedding.
- Avoid direct contact with wool to the skin.
- Talk to your doctor about any natural or herbal treatments. Some of these may make eczema worse.
- Apply a moisturizer to your skin often.
- Avoid scratching or rubbing.
- Follow your treatment plan. Improvement may take several weeks or even months after a new medicine is started.
- Maintain a cool, stable environment. Keep humidity levels the same.
- Recognize and limit emotional stress.
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Content was created using EBSCO’s Health Library. Edits to original content made by Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia. This information is not a substitute for professional medical advice.