What is eczema?

Eczema is a chronic condition is characterized by red, itchy skin that is caused by inflammation.

Eczema affects more than 17 million people United States.

Atopic dermatitis is the most common type of eczema.

Causes of eczema

Although the exact cause of eczema is unknown, factors that can contribute to the development of the condition include:

  • Heredity
  • Environment
  • Skin defects that let germs into the skin
  • Immune system malfunction

Risk factors for eczema

You are more likely to develop eczema if you have any of the following risk factors:

  • Age — eczema is more common in children and young adults.
  • Born to an older mother — children born to older mothers are more likely to develop eczema.
  • Live in area with high pollution — if you live in an urban setting where pollution is greater, you are more likely to develop eczema.
  • Live in colder climates — if you live in a colder weather climate, you are more likely to develop eczema.
  • Family history of eczema — if you have a family history of eczema, you are more likely to develop the condition.

Symptoms of eczema

Symptoms of eczema include:

  • Dry, thickened, cracked or scaly skin
  • Mild to severe itching that intensifies at night
  • Dark or red patches
  • Raised inflamed bumps that can leak fluid
  • Cracking behind the ears
  • Rash on cheeks or arms/legs

Diagnosis of eczema

Your primary care doctor or dermatologist can diagnose eczema in a physical exam. During the exam, your doctor will take a full medical history, discuss your symptoms and evaluate the state of your skin.

Treatment for eczema

There is not currently a cure for eczema. The goal of treatment is to relieve irritation caused by symptoms.

Eczema treatment options include:

  • Change soap and/or moisturize — use mild soap that does not dry your skin out and lather yourself with a quality moisturizer after baths or when your skin appears dry.
  • Bleach baths — a bath with diluted bleach can kill bacteria that lives on the skin; please consult your doctor to obtain the proper dilution level to ensure safety.
  • Over-the-counter hydrocortisone creams — mild eczema can be treated with OTC hydrocortisone creams.
  • Over-the-counter antihistamines — antihistamines can relieve the itching associated with eczema.
  • Ultraviolet light therapy (phototherapy) — used on patients who do not experience relief with less aggressive therapies; during phototherapy, your skin is exposed to controlled amounts of natural sunlight.
  • Medications that improve immune system — can reduce inflammation and lessen immune system reactions, these medications, such as cyclosporine, should be used as a last resort and should only be used in patients over 2 years old.

Recovery from eczema

Some patients experience eczema spells for their entire lives, and for other people, symptoms lessen as they get older.

If you are a person who gets frequent flare-ups even as an adult, consider modifying your soap, detergents and moisturizer routine until you find products that cause the fewest symptoms.

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