Eczema

Definition

Eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis, is a chronic inflammation of the outer layers of the skin.

Causes

The exact cause of eczema is not known. Factors that may contribute to eczema include:

Risk Factors

Eczema is more common in people of African or Asian descent.

Factors that increase your chance of eczema:

  • Asthma or hay fever
  • Urban areas or places with low humidity
  • A family history of 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
  • Immunosuppressant medications
Inflamed Lung and Asthma
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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

Diagnosis

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.

Treatment

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
  • Identify and avoid triggers

Treatment options may vary. Your doctor may recommend more than one depending on your condition. They include:

Skin Care

Proper skin care may allow the skin to heal. Treatment may include the following:

  • Avoid hot or long baths or showers. Keep them less than 15 minutes.
  • Use mild, unscented bar soap or non-soap cleanser. Use it sparingly.
  • Air-dry or gently pat dry after bathing. Apply gentle moisturizer when you skin is still damp.
  • Treat skin infections right away.

Medications

In some cases, medication may also be needed and may include:

  • Prescription creams and ointments containing cortisone, tacrolimus, or pimecrolimus
  • Prescription or over-the-counter antihistamines to help prevent itching
  • Antibiotics applied directly to the skin or taken by mouth in order to treat infections
  • Oral medications, such as prednisone or cyclosporine for severe cases

Phototherapy

If skin care and medications are not effective, light therapy may be used. This may include:

  • Treatment with ultraviolet A light and 5-methoxypsoralen (PUVA)
  • Photopheresis—For severe cases

Prevention

It is difficult to prevent eczema. This is most true when there is a strong family history.

Revisions

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This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.

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