Eczema is a condition wherein patches of skin become inflamed, itchy, cracked, and rough. Some types can also cause blisters.
Different types and stages of eczema affect 31.6 million people in the United States, which is over 10% of the population.
Many people use the word eczema when referring to atopic dermatitis, which is the most common type. The term atopic refers to a collection of conditions that involve the immune system, including atopic dermatitis, asthma, and hay fever. The word dermatitis refers to inflammation of the skin.
Certain foods, such as nuts and dairy, can trigger symptoms. Environmental triggers include smoke, pollen, soaps, and fragrances. Eczema is not contagious.
Some people outgrow the condition, whereas others will continue to have it throughout adulthood.
This article will explain what eczema is and discuss its symptoms, treatments, causes, and types.
Applying moisturizer may prevent eczema flares and ease symptoms.
The symptoms of atopic dermatitis can vary depending on the age of the person who has it.
Atopic dermatitis is common in infants, with dry and scaly patches appearing on the skin. These patches are often intensely itchy.
Continuous rubbing and scratching can lead to skin infections. Learn how to identify infected eczema here.
In most cases, however, eczema is mild. The most common symptoms of atopic dermatitis include:
- dry, scaly skin
- skin flushing
- open, crusted, or weeping sores
Some of the symptoms of eczema are different in people with darker skin
People with severe eczema will need more intensive treatment to relieve their symptoms.
Most people with the condition develop it before the age of 5 years. However, an estimated 60% of children will no longer show symptoms by adolescence.
People with the condition will often experience periods of time when their symptoms worsen, followed by periods of time when their symptoms will improve or clear up.
The symptoms in children and adults may be different. The following sections will outline some of these differences in more detail.
Symptoms in infants
The following atopic dermatitis symptoms are common in infants under the age of 2:
- rashes on the scalp and cheeks
- rashes that bubble up before leaking fluid
- rashes that can cause extreme itchiness, which may interfere with sleeping
Symptoms in children
The following atopic dermatitis symptoms are common in children age 2 and above:
- rashes that appear behind the creases of elbows or knees
- rashes that appear on the neck, wrists, ankles, and the crease between the buttocks and legs
- bumpy rashes
- rashes that can become lighter or darker
- skin thickening, also known as lichenification, which can then develop into a permanent itch
Symptoms in adults
The following atopic dermatitis symptoms are common in adults:
- rashes that are more scaly than those occurring in children
- rashes that commonly appear in the creases of the elbows or knees or the nape of the neck
- rashes that cover much of the body
- very dry skin on the affected areas
- rashes that are permanently itchy
- skin infections
Adults who developed atopic dermatitis as a child but no longer experience the condition may still have dry or easily irritated skin, hand eczema, and eye problems.
The appearance of skin affected by atopic dermatitis will depend on how much a person scratches and whether or not the skin is infected. Scratching and rubbing can further irritate the skin, increase inflammation, and make the itching worse.
There is currently no cure for eczema. Treatment for the condition aims to heal the affected skin and prevent flares of symptoms.
Doctors will suggest a treatment plan based on an individual’s age, symptoms, and current state of health.
For some people, eczema goes away over time. For others, however, it is a lifelong condition.
The sections below will list some treatment options.
There are several things that people with eczema can do to support skin health and alleviate symptoms.
For example, they can try:
- taking lukewarm baths
- applying moisturizer within 3 minutes of bathing to “lock in” moisture
- moisturizing every day
- wearing cotton and soft fabrics
- avoiding rough, scratchy fibers and tight fitting clothing
- using a humidifier in dry or cold weather
- using a mild soap or a non-soap cleanser when washing
- taking extra precautions to prevent eczema flares in winter
- air drying or gently patting the skin dry with a towel, rather than rubbing the skin dry after bathing or taking a shower
- where possible, avoiding rapid changes of temperature and activities that cause sweating
- learning and avoiding individual eczema triggers
- keeping fingernails short to prevent scratching from breaking the skin
People can also try various natural remedies for eczema, including aloe vera, coconut oil, and apple cider vinegar.