Finding Solutions for Eczema

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9 Signs Your Eczema Is Severe

  • woman-scratching-back-of-neck
    Signs of Atopic Dermatitis
    Atopic dermatitis is one of about eight different types of the chronic, non-infectious skin condition called eczema. When people talk about “severe eczema,” they’re usually referring to atopic dermatitis. And the symptoms can be very challenging to cope with.
  • person scratching arm
    1. Severe Itching
    People with mild-to-moderate eczema experience some itching, but people with severe eczema tend to experience much more intense, even uncontrollable itching. In fact, their skin itches so much they scratch it until it bleeds--a phenomenon dubbed the “itch-scratch cycle.” These dry, itchy spots can develop anywhere, but they’re especially common in places like the crook of your arms, the back of your knees, your neck and your face.
  • Applying oil massage
    2. Redness and Dryness
    Red, dry, irritated skin is common in most cases of eczema. But when your skin is extra-dry and extra-red and extra-irritated, you know you’re dealing with a much more severe case. It may also be spread out over larger areas.
  • arm-with-blisters
    3. Blistering
    Another of the most common severe eczema signs is blistering or weeping skin. When you have a flare-up of atopic dermatitis, it can cause sores or blisters to form. Often, those blisters then break open, weeping fluid.
  • rough dry skin on hand
    4. Thick Patches of Skin
    With all the scratching and rubbing that comes with an itchy case of severe eczema, it’s common over time to develop thick, raised patches of skin. These patches of skin often feel and look leathery. Your skin may feel rougher overall, too.
  • woman applying ointment to foot, low section
    5. Lack of Response to Topical Treatment
    Most mild-to-moderate cases of eczema respond fairly well to the use of topical treatments like gentle moisturizers on a daily basis along with corticosteroid creams or ointments for flare-ups. When your skin stops responding well to those treatments, it can be a sign your eczema has developed into a more severe case.
  • woman-receiving-injection
    6. Stronger Treatments Required
    When your doctor begins talking about second-line treatments, you know your eczema is a more serious condition. Your doctor may want to see how you respond to oral or injected systemic corticosteroids or light therapy. Another possible option is a combination treatment regimen of light therapy and a light-sensitive drug called psoralen. There’s also a new biologic drug on the market called dupilumab (Dupixent) that can be used to treat severe eczema in people who haven’t had luck with other treatments.
  • woman scratching neck
    7. Symptoms Persist into Adulthood
    Atopic dermatitis tends to develop in young children and babies--and is less common in adults. But when a child’s eczema symptoms persist into adulthood, they are often more severe, although the symptoms can cycle back and forth.
  • Problematic Night
    8. Sleeplessness
    Someone who’s not familiar with severe eczema might be confused by this sign, but anyone who suffers from the condition knows why sleeplessness is a problem. The severe itching prevents many people with atopic dermatitis from sleeping well at night.
  • young woman at desk rubbing eyes
    9. Eye Problems
    Allergic rhinitis is common in people with eczema, so they may wind up with the red, weepy eyes we tend to associate with hay fever. But people with atopic dermatitis are also prone to developing eye problems like eyelid dermatitis, inflammation of the cornea, and conjunctivitis (pink eye).
Severe Eczema Signs | Severe Eczema

About The Author

Jennifer Larson has more than 15 years of professional writing experience with a specialization in healthcare. She has a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Maryland and memberships in the Association of Health Care Journalists, the Society of Professional Journalists, and the Education Writers Association.

  1. Adults with AD at greater risk for eye disease. National Eczema Association.

  2. Atopic dermatitis. Mayo Clinic.

  3. Eczema: Overview. National Library of Medicine. PubMed Health.

  4. First Biologic Approved for Moderate to Severe Atopic Dermatitis. National Eczema Association.

  5. Kim BS. Atopic Dermatitis. Medscape.

  6. Survey Shows Impact of Moderate To Severe Atopic Dermatitis on U.S. Adults Goes Beyond Physical Symptoms. National Eczema Association.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Feb 15
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