Key Points about Eczema

  • Eczema is a group of skin conditions marked by itchy, scaly, red or inflamed skin.
  • It is thought to result from a combination of genetic and environmental factors.
  • Eczema flare-ups can be triggered by stress, sweat, chemical irritants, synthetic fabrics, and dry climates.
  • To prevent flare-ups, be aware of your triggers and set up a plan to avoid them.
  • Your doctor may prescribe medications or other therapies to treat your symptoms.

Overview

Eczema is a group of skin conditions marked by itchy, scaly, red or inflamed skin. There are a number of types of eczema, the most common of which is atopic dermatitis, which can look similar to an allergic reaction.

While eczema’s exact cause is not known, it is thought to result from a combination of genetic and environmental influences. In people who have eczema, flare-ups can be triggered by factors such as stress, sweating, irritating chemicals, synthetic fabrics, or living in a dry climate.

Eczema cannot be cured, but it can be treated. Your doctor may prescribe medications or other therapies to treat your symptoms. Most cases of eczema are best managed by avoiding the triggers that cause your flare-ups.

Eczema causes

Eczema’s exact cause is not known. It likely results from a combination of:

  • Genetic factors that may predispose some people to developing eczema
  • Environments and activities that increase skin sensitivity
  • Altered immune system function

Eczema flare-ups can be triggered by a number of influences, such as:

  • Self-care products containing irritating ingredients
  • Chlorine, cigarette smoke and other environmental irritants
  • Materials such as wool and synthetic fabrics
  • Having a cold, flu, bacterial infection or allergic reaction to something in the environment
  • Stress
  • Sweating
  • A dry climate

Eczema risk factors

You may be at an increased risk of developing eczema if you:

  • Have family members who have eczema, allergies, or asthma
  • Were born to an older mother
  • Live in an area with cold weather
  • Live in a city or town with high pollution levels
  • Were born into a higher socioeconomic status

Eczema symptoms

Eczema symptoms vary from person to person, and according to the type of eczema you are experiencing. Some general symptoms of eczema may include skin that is:

  • Dry, sensitive, red or inflamed
  • Extremely itchy
  • Discolored
  • Rough, scaly, or crusty
  • Swelling

Eczema complications

Some cases of eczema can lead to:

  • Skin infections — if viruses or bacteria enter the skin through cracks caused by scratching a patch of eczema
  • Sleep disruption — as itching can keep you awake
  • Neurodermatitis — a condition marked by constantly itchy skin that becomes leathery, scaly or discolored in appearance

Eczema diagnosis

Your doctor will conduct a physical examination of the affected area when diagnosing eczema.

Eczema treatment

To treat eczema, your doctor may recommend or prescribe:

  • Oral or topical corticosteroid treatments
  • Phototherapy, or light therapy
  • Anti-inflammatory drugs
  • Non-prescription, or over-the-counter, remedies
  • Immunosuppressant drugs

Specific treatment will depend upon the patients age, type of eczema, and severity of symptoms.

Next Steps

You can try to prevent eczema flare-ups by:

  • Avoiding the influences that trigger your symptoms
  • Maintain a daily skincare routine with cleansing and moisturizing products free from any irritating ingredients