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What is Eczema?

Eczema also is known as atopic dermatitis tends to run in families. This suggests a genetic link. It’s also associated with asthma and allergies. These are immune hypersensitivity disorders.

Treatment for this condition is aimed at calming the skin inflammation, decreasing the itching, and preventing infections. Good skin care and medicine to control itching and infection are used.


What causes eczema?

The exact cause of eczema is not known. It runs in families, which suggests a genetic link. It’s also linked to asthma and allergies. There is likely an alteration of the proteins in the skin that leads to eczema. 

Certain triggers can make eczema worse. For example, stress, hot or cold temperature, dry conditions, certain fabrics, or detergents can cause a flare-up.


What are the symptoms of Eczema?

The area of the body affected by eczema may change with age. In infants and young children, it usually affects the face, outside of the elbows, and on the knees. In older children and adults, it tends to be on the hands and feet, the arms, on the back of the knees, and the folds of the elbows.

Symptoms are slightly different for each person. Common symptoms include:

  • Dry, scaly patches on the skin
  • Small bumps that open and weep when scratched
  • Redness and swelling of the skin
  • A thickening of the skin (with chronic eczema)
  • Scratch marks on the skin

Too much rubbing and scratching can tear the skin and lead to infection.

The symptoms of eczema may look like other skin conditions. Always talk with your healthcare provider for a diagnosis.


How is eczema diagnosed?

Your provider will ask about your health history and whether you have allergies or asthma. He or she will also ask about any family history of dermatitis, allergies, or asthma.

Your provider can often diagnose eczema by examining your skin. You may also have a patch test. This is used to find allergies by placing small amounts of allergens on the skin and watching for a response. A skin biopsy may also be done to rule out other causes of the rash.


How is eczema treated?

Factors such as your age, overall health, and health history will help your healthcare provider find the best treatment for you.

There is no cure for eczema. The goals of treatment are to reduce itching and inflammation of the skin, to keep the skin moist, and to prevent infection.

Your provider may also prescribe medicines in severe cases. The following are commonly used to treat atopic dermatitis:

  • Antihistamines. These medicines are taken by mouth. They may help to ease itching. Some examples include diphenhydramine and hydroxyzine. They may cause drowsiness. Some newer antihistamines available don’t cause drowsiness.
  • Steroid creams. These are put on the skin to help ease inflammation, itching, and swelling. Many topical steroids are available in various strengths. If overused, they can cause skin thinning and discoloration.
  • Systemic corticosteroids. These medicines ease inflammation, which can relieve itching. They are used for severe cases. They are available as a pill, liquid, or shot. These steroids have serious side effects from the long-term use. So they are only used for a short time to stop a flare-up. 
  • Oral antibiotics. These medicines kill bacteria that cause infections. Scratching the affected skin can bring bacteria to the area. This can lead to infection. Always take the antibiotic exactly as prescribed until it is all gone. 
  • Oral cyclosporine. This medicine has been used for years to treat atopic dermatitis that doesn’t respond to other treatments. It was first developed to prevent rejection after organ transplantation. It suppresses the immune system. This stops it from overreacting. This helps prevent flare-ups. It’s available as a capsule or liquid. It has many side effects that should be considered carefully.
  • Phototherapy. Two types are used to treat atopic dermatitis: ultraviolet (UV) light therapy and PUVA (chemophototherapy). Light therapy uses UV light of specific wavelengths to target the immune system. It stops the responses that lead to inflammation. Phototherapy may be used along with other treatment. There are risks and benefits of light therapy. Weigh these risks with your healthcare provider. 
  • Topical immunomodulator. Also known as topical calcineurin inhibitors. They are put on the skin to change the immune response.
  • Methotrexate. An immunosuppressive medicine that can be used to manage atopic dermatitis long term. However, it can potentially harm the liver.
  • Barrier restoration creams. Similar to moisturizers, but they help repair the skin as well as provide moisture.


What are the complications of eczema?

Complications of eczema include:

  • Dry skin that is easily irritated
  • Skin infections
  • Eye problems, such as eyelid dermatitis or cataracts
  • Difficulty in personal, family, and/or work relationships


Can eczema be prevented?

Because the cause of eczema is not known, there is no known way to prevent it. But avoiding triggers may reduce flare-ups.