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What is eczema? — Eczema is a skin condition that makes your skin itchy and flaky. Doctors do not know what causes it. Eczema often happens in people who have allergies. It can also run in families. Another term for eczema is "atopic dermatitis."
What are the symptoms of eczema? — The symptoms of eczema can include:
Intense itching
Small bumps
Skin that flakes off or forms scales
Most people with eczema have their first symptoms before they turn 5. But eczema can look different in people of different ages:
In babies, eczema tends to affect the front of the arms and legs, cheeks, or scalp. (The diaper area is not usually affected.)
In older children and adults, eczema often affects the sides of the neck, the elbow creases, and the backs of the knees. Adults can also get it on their wrists, hands, forearms, and face.
In older children and adults, the skin can become thick and dark, and can even form scars from too much scratching.
Is there a test for eczema? — No, there is no test. But doctors and nurses can tell if you have eczema it by looking at your skin and by asking you questions.
What can I do to reduce my symptoms? — Use unscented thick moisturizing creams and ointments to keep the skin from getting too dry. Also, try to avoid things that can make eczema worse, such as:
Having dry skin that has not been treated with moisturizing creams or ointments
Being too hot or sweating too much
Being in very dry air
Stress or worry
Sudden temperature changes
Harsh soaps or cleaning products
Wool or synthetic fabrics (like polyester)
How is eczema treated? — There are treatments that can relieve the symptoms of eczema. But the condition cannot be cured. Even so, about half of children with eczema grow out of it by the time they become adults. The treatments for eczema include:
Moisturizing creams or ointments – These products help keep your skin moist. In some cases, your doctor or nurse might suggest using a moist dressing over special creams or medicines. It helps to put on your cream or ointment right after a bath or shower. Some people also try products that you put in the bathtub, such as oil or oatmeal. But these have been found not to help with eczema symptoms.
Steroid creams and ointments – These are not the same as the steroids athletes some athletes take illegally. They go on the skin, and they relieve itching and redness. (In severe cases, you might need steroids in pills. But your doctor or nurse will want to take you off steroid pills as soon as possible. Even though these medicines help, they can also cause problems of their own.)
Medicines that change the way the immune system works – These medicines are only for people who do not get better with safer treatment options.
Antihistamine pills – Antihistamines are the medicines people often take for allergies. Some people with eczema find that antihistamines relieve itching. Others do not think the medicines do any good. Many people with eczema find that itching is worst at night. That can make it hard to sleep. If you have this problem, talk with your doctor or nurse about it. He or she might recommend an antihistamine that can also help with sleep.
Light therapy – Another treatment option is something called "light therapy," but doctors do not use it much. During light therapy, your skin is exposed to a special kind of light called ultraviolet light. This therapy is usually done in a doctor's office.
Light therapy can help with eczema but experts worry that it might increase a person's risk for skin cancer. Doctors usually recommend it for people who do not get better with other treatments.
Talk to your doctor or nurse if your eczema is making you feel very anxious or sad. There are treatments that can help.
Can eczema be prevented? — Maybe. Babies who have a parent, brother, or sister with eczema have a higher risk of getting it, too. In these babies, using moisturizing creams or ointments (starting right after birth) might help prevent eczema during the first year. But doctors don't yet know if this also helps prevent eczema later on.
All topics are updated as new evidence becomes available and our peer review process is complete.
This topic retrieved from UpToDate on: Mar 30, 2020.
Topic 15392 Version 13.0
Release: 28.2.2 - C28.105
© 2020 UpToDate, Inc. and/or its affiliates. All rights reserved.

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