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Finding Solutions for Eczema

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A Guide to Eczema

Medically Reviewed By Joan Paul, MD, MPH, DTMH

Eczema is a skin condition that causes skin inflammation and irritation. The dry or damaged skin causes itching, discoloration, and flaking. Ointments and medications can help care for eczema. Eczema develops when the skin barrier becomes dry or damaged, leading to irritation and inflammation. Eczema is common in children but can develop at any age, anywhere on the skin.

Eczema ranges from mild to serious. Ointments, oral medications, and at-home care can help alleviate eczema.

This article discusses the types, symptoms, and causes of eczema. It also explains the diagnosis, treatment, and outlook of the condition.

Eczema types

Someone applies ointment to the skin on their leg.
Milles Studio/Stocksy United

There are multiple types of eczema. They differ based on their triggers and symptoms.

Below is an overview of the different eczema types.

Eczema typeDescription
Atopic dermatitisThis is the most common eczema type. It is characterized by dry, itchy skin that often appears for the first time in childhood. Atopic dermatitis appears to run in families.
Allergic contact dermatitisAllergic contact dermatitis is an allergic reaction. It can develop when the skin makes physical contact with an allergen.
Irritant contact dermatitisIrritant contact dermatitis is eczema that develops when the skin makes physical contact with an irritant, such as harsh chemicals or friction. This is similar to allergic contact dermatitis, but it does not necessarily involve an allergen or allergic reaction.
Dyshidrotic eczemaThis type of eczema appears as itchy blisters on the hands and feet. The cause is currently unconfirmed, but it may run in families.
NeurodermatitisNeurodermatitis is a common eczema type that causes intense itching. The itching may worsen the more you scratch, leading to damaged or irritated skin. Physical irritation to the skin or emotional stress may cause neurodermatitis.
Nummular dermatitisNummular dermatitis causes coin-shaped patches of eczema that may ooze fluid. Dry skin, irritation, or skin injury cause this type of eczema.
Seborrheic dermatitis, or cradle capCommon in infants, this is eczema that causes a scaly, itchy rash. Seborrheic dermatitis develops in body areas with more oil glands, such as the face, scalp, and upper chest.
Stasis dermatitisThis eczema type causes skin discoloration, swelling in the feet, and other eczema symptoms. Low circulation in the legs and feet may cause stasis dermatitis.

Read more about the types of eczema.

Eczema symptoms

Eczema symptoms can vary per type and per person. Common eczema symptoms include:

  • skin dryness or flaking
  • itching, soreness, or tenderness
  • irritation in the folds of the skin
  • discoloration, patches of skin that appear purple, ashen, red, or pink
  • patches of skin that darken or become paler
  • skin that cracks, bleeds, or both
  • blisters that may be filled with fluid
  • spots that crust
  • swelling

Eczema can develop anywhere on the skin. For infants and children, eczema may be more common Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source on the:

  • cheeks
  • elbows and knees
  • elbow creases
  • behind the knees

Contact your doctor for symptoms that persist, are concerning to you, or affect your daily life.

See pictures of different eczema types and more about symptoms.

Eczema causes

The exact cause of eczema is unknown. The National Health Service (NHS) suggests that a combination of factors likely causes eczema to develop.

So far, researchers believe that eczema occurs from changes or damage to the skin’s protective layers. The resulting dryness and inflammation can lead to itchiness and damage from scratching.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) Trusted Source National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases Governmental authority Go to source suggests that damage to the skin’s protective layers may occur from the following factors.

Genetic susceptibilities or changes

People with a family history of eczema may be more likely to develop it themselves. This indicates that certain inherited genetic features may contribute to eczema development.

For example, the gene FLG produces the protein profilaggrin. This protein supports the structure and health of the outer layer of skin. This outer layer forms a barrier to maintain hydration and protect against foreign substances, such as infections and allergens. FLG gene variations may affect profilaggrin production, leading to dry and weakened skin.

Genetic factors may not cause eczema on their own. Instead, the effects of these genetic factors and environmental factors may build up to cause eczema.

Immune system reactions and environmental triggers

Sometimes, the immune system may be hypersensitive or overact in response to irritants or allergens in the environment. This may cause skin inflammation and changes in the protective layers of skin, leading to dryness. The dryness can contribute to symptoms of eczema.

Environmental irritants and allergens can include:

  • tobacco smoke
  • other kinds of air pollution
  • fragrances and other irritating chemicals

Eczema triggers

Each person’s eczema triggers may be different. They may include:

  • stress
  • skin infections
  • hormonal changes
  • damp or wet skin
  • weather and environmental conditions, such as dry weather or sun exposure
  • scratchy or nonbreathable clothing
  • harsh chemicals, such as detergents, smoke and fumes, and cleaning products
  • allergens, such as pollen, certain foods, and some topical medications

See more possible triggers of eczema.

Diagnosing eczema

Doctors may be able to diagnose eczema based on your symptoms and medical history. They may also carry out a physical exam and check your general health.

Inform your doctor if you or close family members have a history of allergies or eczema. Your doctor may also ask about medications, topical products, and supplements that you take.

Your doctor may request further tests to confirm eczema and rule out other possible causes of your symptoms. These tests can include:

  • blood tests
  • allergy testing, such as with a patch test
  • skin biopsy of the rash

Learn more about testing for allergies.

Treatment for eczema

Treatment for eczema focuses on relieving symptoms and supporting skin recovery. This often Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source includes moisturizing the skin with ointments or creams, and taking anti-inflammatory medications.

Examples of treatments include:

  • over-the-counter (OTC) moisturizers for eczema, including emollients, humectants, and occlusives
  • oral antihistamine medications, which help with inflammation and itching
  • oral immunosuppressants, medications to reduce immune overactivity
  • biologic medications, to reduce inflammation
  • antibiotics, to treat bacterial skin infections
  • phototherapy, which uses special lights to reduce skin irritation
  • bleach baths, which may lower the risk of skin infection when used under the instruction of a doctor
  • topical steroids, which may reduce inflammation and itching
  • steroid-free topical ointments, such as:
    • pimecrolimus (Elidel)
    • tacrolimus (Protopic)
    • crisaborole (Eucrisa)

When using OTC products, ask your medical team or a pharmacist which products may be safe and appropriate for you.

Contact your doctor with questions about eczema treatment. Talk with them for further advice if a recommended or prescribed treatment is not helping.

Self-care and home remedies for eczema

Self-care is an important aspect of treatment for eczema. Keeping the skin clean and hydrated can alleviate symptoms and reduce the risk of infection.

To look after your skin with eczema, try the following tips:

  • Avoid known triggers or irritants; cover the skin during unavoidable exposure.
  • Avoid overbathing, and use lukewarm water.
  • Avoid harsh exfoliation and scrubbing of the skin when bathing.
  • Use Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source synthetic cleansers or cleansers with a lower pH when bathing. These may be less irritating than some traditional soaps. Look for products labeled as being for sensitive skin, or ask a pharmacist or dermatologist for product suggestions.
  • Avoid skin care products that contain fragrances, alcohol, and other irritating ingredients.
  • Apply oil-based ointments regularly, including applying them to damp skin after bathing.
  • Use a room humidifier, especially in dry weather.
  • Stay hydrated with water and other fluids.
  • Take a colloidal oatmeal bath.
  • Avoid touching broken skin unnecessarily. Wash your hands before and after caring for your eczema.
  • Contact your doctor promptly for symptoms of infection, such as pus, swelling, or warmth to the skin.

See more home remedies for eczema.

Outlook of eczema

Generally, eczema is considered a chronic condition, meaning it may be present or come and go for a long time. Some people experience Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source eczema only in childhood, and then outgrow it and have no symptoms by adulthood.

Sometimes eczema may cause complications, such as an increased risk of infections. Read more about skin infections, including their symptoms and treatment.

Treatment and home care can help alleviate symptoms, improve quality of life, and reduce the risk of complications.

If you have questions about eczema treatment or outlook, talk with your doctor for personal advice.

Summary

Eczema is a skin condition characterized by skin irritation and inflammation. Eczema develops when allergens, harsh chemicals, and other irritants trigger dryness and damage to the skin barrier.

Symptoms of eczema can vary, but they generally include itching, soreness, and discoloration.

Treatment for eczema includes OTC or prescription ointments, oral medications such as antihistamines, and at-home care. At-home care methods can include bathing with lukewarm water and gentle cleansers, taking oatmeal baths, and staying hydrated.

Contact your doctor for symptoms of eczema that persist or are concerning to you.

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Medical Reviewer: Joan Paul, MD, MPH, DTMH
Last Review Date: 2023 Jul 26
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.