Medical Treatments and Home Remedies for Eczema

Medically Reviewed By Amanda Caldwell, MSN, APRN-C

Managing eczema commonly involves medical treatments and home remedies. Healthcare professionals may recommend topical ointments, oral medications, injectables, and phototherapy. There are also self-care tips to help you manage eczema symptoms. “Eczema” is an umbrella term for a group of conditions that cause inflammation and dry, itchy skin. Types of eczema include:

A doctor or dermatologist can help create a treatment plan to manage your symptoms and reduce the frequency and severity of flare-ups.

Read on to learn about the medical treatments and home remedies that can help alleviate eczema. This article also examines avoiding triggers and when to contact a doctor.

Does treatment differ for different types of eczema?

A woman applying moisturizing cream to her arm
Mihajlo Ckovric/Stocksy United

Treatments may differ depending on the type of eczema. Many medications and home remedies can be useful for multiple types of the condition.

You may also have more than one type of eczema. A doctor can recommend a treatment approach for each type of eczema and suggest self-care tips.

This article offers an overview of the treatments for different types of eczema. However, contact a doctor for a diagnosis and specific recommendations.

Topical ointments 

Doctors commonly recommend topical ointments to reduce itchiness and inflammation caused by eczema.

Topical medications your doctor may recommend include:

  • Corticosteroids: These help reduce inflammation, itchiness, and S. aureus bacteria on the skin.
  • Topical calcineurin inhibitors: These work like corticosteroids and may be helpful if symptoms do not respond to corticosteroids. Examples of topical calcineurin inhibitors include tacrolimus ointment and pimecrolimus cream.
  • Crisaborole ointment: This phosphodiesterase-4 inhibitor can help alleviate itchiness within a few days. It may be beneficial for those 3 months or older with mild to moderate eczema.
  • JAK inhibitors: These help quickly relieve symptoms of eczema. Ruxolitinib cream may be good for people 12 years old and older who have mild to moderate eczema. Certain JAK inhibitors may also be good for moderate to severe eczema.
  • Hydrocortisone: This over-the-counter (OTC) topical ointment can help reduce eczema symptoms. You may need to apply it 14 times a day for a week.
  • Coal tar: This comes in many forms and may help reduce itching, inflammation, and thickened skin. However, it may not be as effective as other topical treatments.

The strength of the topical medication you need may depend on the severity of your symptoms. A doctor can recommend topical ointments and how frequently to use them.

Oral medications

A doctor may recommend oral medications for moderate to severe eczema that can help you manage symptoms. These include:

  • OTC antihistamines to reduce itchiness and inflammation and to help you sleep better
  • immunosuppressant to prevent symptoms of moderate to severe eczema
  • JAK inhibitors such as abrocitinib and upadacitinib to block some functions in the immune system in people ages 12 and older
  • corticosteroids such as prednisone to reduce inflammation in severe cases of eczema

Injectable biologics

Injectable biologics prevent interleukin proteins in the immune system from aiding the inflammatory response. Reduced inflammation can help relieve eczema symptoms.

The two primary injectable biologics for moderate to severe atopic eczema are dupilumab for children ages 6 months and older and tralokinumab-ldrm for adults over 18 years old.

Phototherapy

Phototherapy, or light therapy, is used when eczema does not respond to other treatments. Your doctor may recommend it for widespread or localized eczema.

Narrowband ultraviolet B light therapy is the most common type of phototherapy for eczema. It directs light onto the affected skin for seconds or minutes. You might see improvement in your symptoms in about 1–2 months.

Home remedies

Various home remedies and self-care tips may help you manage symptoms of eczema.

Steps you can take when washing include:

  • washing or bathing in warm water rather than hot water to prevent your skin from drying out
  • taking shorter showers and limiting baths to about 5–10 minutes
  • at your doctor’s advice, taking a diluted bleach bath to reduce bacteria and inflammation
  • gently patting your skin dry after washing to prevent further irritation
  • applying a thick, fragrance-free moisturizer after bathing

Other self-care tips for eczema include:

  • regularly applying moisturizer to prevent your skin from becoming too dry
  • avoiding fragranced or perfumed beauty products, including those labeled “unscented”
  • wearing loose-fitting 100% cotton clothing
  • applying wet wrap therapy
  • keeping fingernails short to prevent scratching the skin
  • using dandruff shampoo to treat seborrheic dermatitis affecting the scalp
  • wearing compression stockings for stasis dermatitis at your doctor’s recommendation

Dietary changes

Your doctor may refer you to a dietitian, who can create a food plan and help you identify foods that might trigger your eczema symptoms. You may need to keep a food diary and note when symptoms flare .

According to a 2017 report Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source , foods that may cause or worsen eczema symptoms include:

  • gluten
  • white flour products
  • nightshades

Some people may find that symptoms improve when adding fruits, vegetables, and fish oil to their meals.

Avoiding triggers

Avoiding triggers can help you manage eczema symptoms. This is particularly true for contact dermatitis because symptoms occur due to direct contact with an allergen or irritant.

If you are unsure of what triggers your symptoms, your doctor may perform allergy tests. This may include:

  • patch test
  • skin prick test
  • blood tests

Common allergens that may trigger eczema include:

  • fragrances
  • hair dye
  • metals such as nickel and cobalt
  • latex and other rubbers
  • certain textiles containing dyes and resins
  • some plants such as sunflowers, daffodils, and tulips
  • some topical medications

Common irritants that may trigger eczema include:

  • perfumes and fragranced products
  • detergents and soaps
  • disinfectants, antiseptics, and antibacterial products
  • machinery oil
  • dust and powders
  • heavily chlorinated water and hard, chalky water
  • certain plants such as mustard plants, spurge, Ranunculus, and Boraginaceae

When should I see a doctor?

Contact your doctor when you have concerns about eczema or to discuss a diagnosis and treatment plan. You may need to make changes to your treatment if symptoms worsen or if you develop a different type of eczema.

Frequently asked questions

Amanda Caldwell, M.S.N., APRN-C, reviewed the answers to these frequently asked questions about eczema.

What is the main cause of eczema?

The exact cause is unclear, but eczema may occur due to genetics and environmental factors. Specific triggers, such as allergens and irritants, prompt an immune response and cause inflammation.

What foods should you avoid if you have eczema?

Foods containing gluten and white flour might worsen symptoms. Your doctor may refer you to a dietitian who can create an eating plan to alleviate your symptoms.

Why is my eczema spreading?

Your eczema may spread if your treatment plan is not working. Your eczema may also appear to spread if you develop another type of eczema. It’s possible to have more than one type of eczema.

Can touching eczema make it spread?

Eczema is not contagious. However, scratching eczema may make symptoms worse.

Does Benadryl help eczema?

The American Osteopathic College of Dermatology recommends avoiding topical antihistamines such as Benadryl for treating eczema because it may trigger an allergic reaction. Instead, your doctor may recommend oral antihistamines to alleviate itchiness and help you to sleep better.

Should you cover eczema or let it breathe?

Letting your skin breathe can help keep your skin feeling cool. Wearing loose-fitting clothing can help reduce further irritation.

Summary

Treatments for eczema include a combination of medical ointments and home remedies. For severe cases or if symptoms do not respond to other treatments, your doctor may recommend oral medication, injectable biologics, and phototherapy.

Your treatment plan may depend on the type of eczema you have. A doctor or dermatologist can recommend treatments depending on your diagnosis.

Contact your doctor if you have concerns about eczema or to discuss your treatment.

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Medical Reviewer: Amanda Caldwell, MSN, APRN-C
Last Review Date: 2023 Apr 10
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