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<span id="mce_1_start" data-mce-type="bookmark"></span><span id="mce_0_start" data-mce-type="bookmark"></span>Eczema

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:

  • Genetics
  • Environment
  • Allergies

Risk Factors

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 hay fever
  • 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

Eczema Symptoms

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:

Skin Care

  • 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.


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.

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