What is eczema?
Eczema is a condition that causes your skin to become dry, itchy and bumpy. This condition weakens your skin’s barrier function, which is responsible for helping your skin retain moisture and protecting your body from outside elements.
Eczema is a type of dermatitis. Dermatitis is a group of conditions that cause skin inflammation.
What are the types of eczema?
There are several types of eczema. Each type has unique triggers that can affect your skin’s barrier function, including:
- Atopic dermatitis.
- Contact dermatitis.
- Dyshidrotic eczema.
- Nummular eczema.
- Seborrheic dermatitis.
It’s possible to have more than one type of eczema at the same time.
Who does eczema affect?
Eczema can affect anyone at any age. Symptoms usually appear during childhood and last into adulthood. You might be more at risk of having eczema if you have a family history or a diagnosis of:
How common is eczema?
Eczema is common and affects more than 31 million Americans. Infants are prone to eczema, and 10% to 20% will have it. However, nearly half of all infants diagnosed with eczema outgrow the condition or have significant improvement as they get older.
What causes eczema to start?
The first signs of eczema are itchiness, dry skin and a rash. These signs indicate that you came into contact with a trigger in your environment that caused your symptoms to start or flare up. Identifying environmental triggers and avoiding them can reduce your risk of an eczema flare-up in your future.
Symptoms and Causes
What are the symptoms of eczema?
Symptoms of eczema include:
- Dry skin.
- Itchy skin.
- Skin rash.
- Bumps on your skin.
- Thick, leathery patches of skin.
- Flaky, scaly or crusty skin.
What does an eczema rash look like?
Eczema can look different on each person diagnosed with the condition. If you have a dark skin tone, an eczema rash can be purple, brown or gray. If you have a light skin tone, an eczema rash can look pink, red or purple.
Where do symptoms of eczema appear on my body?
Symptoms of eczema can show up anywhere on your skin. The most common places where you’ll notice symptoms of eczema include on your:
While less common, eczema can also occur on your:
Does eczema hurt?
Eczema doesn’t usually cause pain. If you scratch your skin, you could break the surface of your skin and create a sore, which could be painful. Some types of eczema, like contact dermatitis, cause a burning sensation and discomfort.
What causes eczema?
Several factors cause eczema, including:
- Your immune system: If you have eczema, your immune system overreacts to small irritants or allergens (triggers) in your environment. When you contact a trigger, your immune system assumes that these small irritants are foreign invaders, like bacteria or viruses, that can harm your body. As a result, the triggers activate your body’s natural defense system. Your immune system’s defense is to create inflammation. Inflammation causes symptoms of eczema on your skin.
- Your genes: You’re more likely to have eczema if there’s a history of eczema or dermatitis in your family. You’re also at a higher risk if there’s a history of asthma, hay fever and/or allergies. Common allergies include pollen, pet hair or foods that trigger an allergic reaction. You could also have a genetic mutation that causes your skin’s barrier function to not work as it should.
- Your environment: There’s a lot in your environment that can irritate your skin. Some examples include exposure to smoke, air pollutants, harsh soaps, fabrics such as wool, and some skin care products. Low humidity (dry air) can cause your skin to become dry and itchy. Heat and high humidity can cause sweating and that can make your itchiness even worse.
- Emotional triggers: Your mental health could affect the health of your skin, which can cause a flare-up of eczema symptoms. If you have high levels of stress, anxiety or depression, you may have more frequent flare-ups of eczema symptoms.
What triggers eczema to flare up?
Eczema affects each person diagnosed with the condition differently. What causes your symptoms to flare up might not trigger someone else with the condition. Common triggers that cause eczema include:
- Dry weather (low humidity).
- Fabrics or clothing material.
- Makeup or skin care products.
- Smoke and pollutants.
- Soaps and detergents.
- Stress or your emotional well-being.
- Touching something you’re allergic to.
Do certain foods trigger eczema?
The connection between eczema and food allergies is unclear. If you have food allergies, then one of the reasons why you must avoid that food is that it may cause or worsen your eczema symptoms. Examples of common allergies include:
Pay attention to what you eat. If your eczema flares up after you eat a certain food, then you might have an allergy to it. If you don’t have a food allergy, then there are no foods that will cause or worsen your eczema.
Is eczema an autoimmune disease?
While eczema can cause your immune system to overreact, it isn’t classified as an autoimmune condition. Research is ongoing to learn more about how eczema interacts with your immune system.
Is eczema contagious?
No. Eczema isn’t contagious. You can’t spread eczema through person-to-person contact.
Diagnosis and Tests
How is eczema diagnosed?
A healthcare provider will diagnose eczema after a physical exam, where they can take a close look at your skin. Most often, people receive an eczema diagnosis as a child, as it’s common among children, but a diagnosis can happen at any age when symptoms arise.
Symptoms of eczema can look similar to other conditions. Your provider might offer tests to rule out other conditions and confirm your diagnosis. Tests could include:
- An allergy test.
- Blood tests to check for causes of the rash that might be unrelated to dermatitis.
- A skin biopsy to distinguish one type of dermatitis from another.
What questions might my healthcare provider ask to diagnose eczema?
Your healthcare provider might ask the following questions to learn more about your symptoms, including:
- Where do you have symptoms on your body?
- Did you use any products to try to treat your skin?
- Do you have any medical conditions like allergies or asthma?
- Do you have a history of eczema in your family?
- How long have you had symptoms?
- Do you take hot showers?
- Is there anything that makes your symptoms worse?
- Have you noticed something triggers or worsens your symptoms like certain soaps or detergents?
- Do your symptoms affect your ability to sleep or perform your daily activities?
Who diagnoses eczema?
A primary care provider may recommend you visit a dermatologist to diagnose and treat your eczema. A dermatologist specializes in skin conditions.
Management and Treatment
How do I get rid of eczema?
Your treatment for eczema is unique to you and what caused your symptoms to flare up. Treatment for eczema could include:
- Using gentle or sensitive skin moisturizers throughout the day when you have dry skin. Apply moisturizer when your skin is damp after a bath or shower.
- Apply topical medications to your skin as advised by your provider, like topical steroids.
- Take oral medications like anti-inflammatory medicines, antihistamines or corticosteroids to reduce itchiness and swelling.
- Immunosuppressant drugs help regulate how your immune system functions.
- Light therapy to improve the appearance of your skin and remove blemishes.
- Avoid triggers that cause symptoms of eczema to flare up.
How do you treat childhood eczema?
If your child has skin issues, such as eczema, you can:
- Give your child a short, warm bath instead of a long, hot bath, which can dry out their skin.
- Use moisturizers several times daily. In infants with eczema, moisturizing on a regular basis, like with each diaper change, is extremely helpful.
- Keep the room temperature as regular as possible. Changes in room temperature and humidity can dry your child’s skin.
- Keep your child dressed in cotton. Wool, silk and synthetic fabrics such as polyester can irritate their skin.
- Use sensitive skin or unscented laundry detergent.
- Help your child avoid rubbing or scratching at their skin.
What type of moisturizer treats eczema?
There are several options of moisturizer available to treat eczema. Choose skin care products that:
- Are hypoallergenic, fragrance- and dye-free.
- Are gentle or for sensitive skin.
- Contain petroleum jelly or mineral oil.
- Don’t include preservatives or stabilizers.
- Have lipids and ceramides to improve your skin’s barrier.
It may take several different products through trial and error before you find one that works for you. If you need help choosing a moisturizer, talk to your healthcare provider.
How do I manage my eczema symptoms?
Treating and managing eczema can be difficult if the cause is something you can’t control, like genetics. Fortunately, you may have some influence over your environment and stress levels. Do your best to figure out what triggers or worsens your eczema, and then avoid it. The goal is to reduce itching and discomfort and prevent infection and additional flare-ups.
How soon after treatment will I feel better?
After treatment, it could take several weeks before your skin clears up completely. Topical medications or oral medications prescribed by your healthcare provider help your symptoms go away faster. If your symptoms get worse after treatment, or if they don’t clear up after a few weeks, contact your provider.
Are there complications from eczema?
Complications are possible with eczema and could include:
- Weeping eczema: Weeping eczema causes fluid-filled blisters to form on your skin.
- Infected eczema: Infected eczema occurs when bacteria, fungus or a virus breaks through your skin to cause an infection.
Symptoms that are a sign of complications include:
- Fever and chills.
- A clear to yellow fluid leaking out of blisters on your skin.
- Pain and swelling.
Living With Atopic Dermatitis
Learn about the best diet, home remedies, topical creams and more.
How can I prevent eczema?
There are steps you can take that may prevent eczema flare-ups and outbreaks, including:
- Moisturize your skin regularly or when your skin becomes dry. Seal in moisture after a bath or shower by immediately applying moisturizer to your skin.
- Take baths or showers with warm, not hot, water.
- Stay hydrated and drink at least eight glasses of water each day. Water helps keep your skin moist.
- Wear loose clothes made of cotton and other natural materials. Wash new clothing before wearing it. Avoid wool or synthetic fibers.
- Manage your stress and emotional triggers. See a psychiatrist for medication and a therapist for counseling if you’re experiencing symptoms of poor mental/emotional health.
- Use a humidifier if dry air makes your skin dry.
- Avoid irritants and allergens.
Outlook / Prognosis
What can I expect if I have eczema?
Eczema and other types of dermatitis aren’t harmful to the rest of your body. The condition isn’t deadly. Nearly half of children with eczema outgrow the condition or experience improvement by the time they reach puberty. Others will continue to have some form of the condition throughout their life. For adults with eczema, the condition can be well managed with a good skin care routine.
How long does eczema last?
Eczema can be a lifelong condition. It can start in infancy and continue through adulthood. You can manage your symptoms with at-home remedies, over-the-counter medications and prescription medications.
Is there a cure for eczema?
No, there isn’t a cure for eczema. There are treatments available, but no treatment can eliminate your symptoms 100% of the time. Eczema is a chronic condition, which means it can go away and come back unexpectedly. Treatments are very effective in reducing the symptoms of itchy, dry skin.
How do I take care of myself?
Many people live with eczema, and it can be challenging. But there may be times when your eczema disappears. This is known as a “remission” period. Other times, you may have a “flare-up,” which is when your symptoms show up or get worse. The goal of treatment is to prevent flare-ups and your symptoms from getting worse. Be sure to avoid triggers, moisturize, take your medicine and follow your healthcare provider’s instructions.
When should I see my healthcare provider?
Visit your healthcare provider or your dermatologist if:
- You experience symptoms of eczema.
- Your symptoms get worse after treatment.
- Your symptoms don’t go away a few weeks after treatment.
- You get an infection, have a fever or experience severe pain.
What questions should I ask my healthcare provider?
- If I don’t have eczema, what other skin condition might I have?
- Is there a specific brand of moisturizer that you recommend?
- Are there side effects to the treatment?
- How often should I see a dermatologist regarding my eczema?
- What soaps, lotions, makeup, etc., should I avoid?
- How can I take care of my skin at home?
Frequently Asked Questions
Does the weather make eczema worse?
Yes, certain temperatures or weather patterns can affect your skin and can make eczema worse. Low humidity (dry air) in the winter months can dry out your skin. Humidity caused by high heat can make you sweat, which can make your itchiness worse.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Eczema is a very common and uncomfortable skin condition. It can affect your quality of life. At its worst, it can keep you from sleeping, distract you and make you feel self-conscious in public. See a dermatologist or healthcare provider as soon as you start to see signs of eczema. Explore at-home remedies and prescription treatments until you find the best remedy for your skin.
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