Eczema is a condition in which patches of skin become inflamed, itchy, cracked, and rough. Some types can also cause blisters.
The different types and stages of eczema affect 31.6 million people in the United States, which is more than 10% of the population.
Many people use the word eczema to refer to atopic dermatitis, which is the most common type. The term atopic refers to a group of conditions that affect the immune system, such as atopic dermatitis, asthma and hay fever. The word dermatitis refers to inflammation of the skin.
Some foods, such as nuts and dairy, can trigger symptoms. Environmental triggers are smoke, pollen, soaps, and fragrances. Eczema is not contagious.
Some people outgrow the condition, while others will continue to have it throughout adult life.
This article explains what eczema is and discusses its symptoms, treatments, causes, and types.
Applying moisturizer can prevent eczema flare-ups and relieve symptoms.
The symptoms of atopic dermatitis can vary depending on the age of the person who suffers from it.
Atopic dermatitis is common in babies, with dry, scaly patches on the skin. These spots usually cause intense itching.
Continual rubbing and scratching can lead to skin infections. Learn how to identify infected eczema here.
However, in most cases, eczema is mild. The most common symptoms of atopic dermatitis are:
- Dry and flaky skin
- redness of the skin
- Open, crusted, or crying sores
Some of the symptoms of eczema are different in people with darker skin. Find out more here.
People with severe eczema will need more intensive treatment to relieve their symptoms.
Most people with this disease develop it before the age of 5. However, it is estimated that 60% in children will stop showing symptoms in adolescence.
People with this disease often experience periods of time when their symptoms get worse, followed by periods when symptoms improve or disappear.
Symptoms in children and adults can be different. The following sections describe some of these differences in more detail.
Symptoms in children
- The following symptoms of atopic dermatitis are common in babies younger than 2 years:
- Bells on the scalp and cheeks
- Rashes that bubble up before fluid is released
- Rashes that can cause extreme itching, which can interfere with sleep
Symptoms in children
The following symptoms of atopic dermatitis are common in children 2 years of age and older:
- Rashes that appear behind the creases of the elbows or knees
- Rashes that appear on the neck, wrists, ankles, and the crease between the buttocks and legs
- Bumpy rashes
- Rashes that may become lighter or darker
- Thickening of the skin, also known as lichenification, which can then turn into a permanent itch
Symptoms in adults
- The following symptoms of atopic dermatitis are common in adults:
- Rashes that are more scaly than those that occur in children
- Rashes that usually appear in the creases of the elbows or knees or on the nape of the neck
- Rashes that cover a large part of the body
- Very dry skin in the affected areas
- Permanent itchy rashes
- Skin infections
Adults who developed atopic dermatitis as children but no longer experience the disease may continue to have dry or easily irritable skin, hand eczema, and eye problems.
The appearance of the skin affected by atopic dermatitis will depend on how much the person scratches and whether or not the skin is infected. Scratching and rubbing can further irritate the skin, increase inflammation, and make itching worse.
There is currently no cure for eczema. Treatment of the disease aims to heal the affected skin and prevent flare-ups of symptoms. Doctors suggest a treatment plan based on the person's age, symptoms, and current health.
For some people, eczema clears up over time. For others, however, it is a lifelong disease.
Some treatment options are listed in the following sections.
There are several things that people with eczema can do to support healthy skin and relieve symptoms.
- For example, they can try:
- take lukewarm baths
- Apply moisturizer within 3 minutes of bathing to "lock in" moisture
- hydrate every day
- use cotton and soft fabrics
- avoid rough and scratchy fibers and tight clothing
- using a humidifier in dry or cold weather
- use a mild soap or soap-free cleanser when washing
- take extra precautions to avoid eczema flare-ups in winter
- air drying or patting the skin gently with a towel, rather than rubbing the skin after a bath or shower
- whenever possible, avoid rapid changes in temperature and activities that cause sweating
- learn and avoid individual triggers of eczema
- keep nails short to prevent scratching from breaking skin
People can also try various natural remedies for eczema, such as aloe vera, coconut oil, and apple cider vinegar.
Doctors can prescribe several medications to treat eczema symptoms, including:
- Topical corticosteroid creams and ointments: They are anti-inflammatory drugs and should relieve the main symptoms of eczema, such as inflammation and itching. They can be applied directly to the skin. There are a range of topical corticosteroid creams and ointments available on the Internet. However, some people can benefit from prescription drugs.
- People with eczema may have a health problem.
- Systemic corticosteroids: If topical treatments are not effective, a doctor may prescribe systemic corticosteroids. They are available in the form of injections or oral tablets. They should only be used for short periods of time. Also, it is important to note that symptoms can be worsened by stopping these drugs if the person is not already taking another medication for the condition.
- The disease is a public health problem.
- Antibiotics: Doctors prescribe antibiotics if eczema occurs alongside a bacterial skin infection.
- Antibiotics are a form of treatment that can be used at any time.
- Antiviral and antifungal medications: These can treat fungal and viral infections.
- Antiviral and antifungal medications.
- Antihistamines: These can reduce the risk of scratching at night, as they tend to cause drowsiness.
- Antihistamines are one way to treat skin infections.
- Topical calcineurin inhibitors: This medicine suppresses the activities of the immune system.
- Barrier repair moisturizers: They reduce water loss and act to repair the skin.
- Calcineurin inhibitors are a treatment that helps prevent flare-ups.
- Phototherapy: It consists of exposure to UVA or UVB waves. This method can treat moderate dermatitis. A doctor will monitor the skin closely throughout the treatment.
- Phototherapy treatments are very effective.
Although the condition itself is not currently curable, each person should have a tailored treatment plan.
Also, even after an area of skin has healed, it is important to continue caring for it, as it can easily become irritated again.
The specific cause of eczema remains unknown, but many health professionals believe that it develops due to a combination of genetic and environmental factors.
Children are more likely to develop eczema if one of their parents has it or has another atopic disease. If both parents have an atopic disease, the risk is even higher.
Some environmental factors can cause eczema symptoms. These factors include:
- Irritants: These include soaps, detergents, shampoos, disinfectants, juices from fresh fruits, meats, and vegetables.
- Children with eczema may be at higher risk for it.
- Allergens: Dust mites, pets, pollen, and mold can all cause eczema. It is what is known as allergic eczema.
- Dust mites, pets, pollen, and mold can all cause eczema.
- Microbes: Among them are bacteria such as Staphylococcus aureus, viruses and certain fungi.
- For example, skin eczema.
- Warm and cold temperatures: Very hot and very cold weather, high and low humidity, and perspiration from exercise can cause eczema to flare up.
- Food: Dairy products, eggs, nuts and seeds, soy products, and wheat can cause eczema flare-ups.
- Stress: It is not a direct cause of eczema, but it can make symptoms worse.
- Dairy products, eggs, nuts and seeds, soybeans, and wheat can cause eczema flare-ups.
- Hormones: Women may experience increased eczema symptoms when their hormone levels are changing, such as during pregnancy and at certain times in the menstrual cycle.
There are several types of eczema. Besides atopic dermatitis, other types are:
- Allergic contact dermatitis: It is a skin reaction that occurs after contact with a substance or allergen that the immune system recognizes as foreign.
- Dyshidrotic ezema: It refers to irritation of the skin on the palms of the hands and the soles of the feet. It is characterized by the appearance of blisters.
- It is a neohydrotic eczema.
- Neurodermatitis: These are scaly spots on the head, forearms, wrists, and lower legs. It occurs due to a localized itch, such as that produced by an insect bite.
- It is a skin disease.
- Discoid eczemaAlso known as nummular eczema, this type presents as circular patches of irritated skin that may be crusted, scaly, and itchy.
- Stagnant dermatitis: Refers to irritation of the skin on the lower leg. It is usually related to circulatory problems.
- Stomatitis dermatitis:
- Refers to irritation of the skin on the lower leg.
Eczema is a common inflammatory skin condition. The most common type is called atopic dermatitis.
Eczema is more common in children, but most clears it by the time they reach their teens.
Although there is currently no cure, people can treat and prevent eczema flare-ups using home remedies, moisturizers, medications, and lifestyle changes.