FAQs About Atopic Dermatitis


Sarah Handzel, BSN, RN

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Atopic dermatitis, more frequently called eczema, is a common skin condition that affects over 30 million Americans. Anyone can have eczema, including children, and if you have it, you’re probably looking for answers and support. The good news is, in most cases, eczema is very manageable. As you learn more about your eczema, be sure to ask your doctor about any special concerns or questions you might have.

What is eczema?

Eczema is a dry skin condition that makes your skin itchy and red. In more severe cases, your skin can become crusty and can bleed or split open. Most people with eczema have periods of flare-ups which go away over time. Occasionally, flare-ups can occur along with asthma or hay fever. This condition is chronic, meaning that it’s long-lasting. Unfortunately, there is no known cure for eczema, but there are many treatments available to help relieve itching and prevent outbreaks.

Caring for sensitive skin and eczema can be challenging, but with the right tips and tricks, you can give your skin the love it needs.

Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Review Date: Apr 28, 2017

2017 Healthgrades Operating Company, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Healthgrades Operating Company, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the Healthgrades User Agreement.

Who gets eczema?

In most cases, eczema begins before a person is five years old–for many people, it lasts well into adulthood. The exact reason certain people develop eczema isn’t known, but research points to a number of possible factors. It’s now thought that certain genes and variations in a person’s immune system both play a role in the likelihood of a person developing eczema. If you naturally have drier, more irritable skin, or certain types of bacteria that live on your skin, you might also be more likely to develop eczema.

What are the symptoms of eczema?

Since each person is different, your eczema symptoms might be different from someone else. Some of the most common symptoms of an eczema flare-up include:

  • Itchy skin, which can be worse at night.

  • Dry, thickened, or scaly patches of skin which can occur all over your body, usually on the hands, feet, elbows, knees, neck, chest, and eyelids. Patches might be red or brownish-grey in color. In infants, patches are common on the face and scalp.

  • Skin that is sensitive, swollen, or raw as a result of scratching.

  • Small raised bumps that can become crusted or leak fluid when scratched.

What causes my eczema flare-ups?

Eczema flare-ups are usually associated with specific triggers, which can be different for each person. However, there are a number of common triggers that have been reported. Many people find that increased stress levels bring on a eczema flare-ups. You might also find that changes in environmental conditions, such as increases in temperature or humidity, cause your eczema to suddenly worsen. Other triggering factors have been reported, including:

  • Exposure to new soaps, laundry detergents, or perfumes.

  • Exposure to dust mites or animal dander or saliva.

  • Pollen from trees, grass, or weeds.

  • Certain types of clothing, such as that made from wool or synthetic materials.

  • Dry skin, which can occur after you take a long bath or shower.

How can I prevent flare-ups?

Even though there is no known cure for eczema, there are several things you can do to help prevent flare-ups. It’s important that you develop a skin care routine you can stick to every day to keep your skin as comfortable and healthy as possible. Be sure to keep your skin moisturized and avoid wearing clothing you know will irritate your skin. When bathing, use mild soaps that don’t have any dyes or perfumes, since these can trigger a flare-up.

One of the best things you can do is reduce the amount of stress you’re feeling, since this is one of the main factors in eczema outbreaks. Try to learn to recognize situations that are stressful and develop better techniques for avoiding or coping with them. If you need to, ask your doctor for recommendations on ways to reduce your stress levels.

How can I get my itching to stop?

For most people, the itching associated with eczema is the worst part of having it. It might not be possible to stop the itch completely, but you can help to reduce any itching you might have. There are several over-the-counter and prescription medications that can help temporarily stop the itch, and you can use a cool, wet washcloth over the affected area as often as necessary to help prevent itching and scratching. If you need to, use a humidifier to add moisture to the air in your home, since dry indoor air can worsen your itching and make your skin more sensitive.

Eczema can be frustrating, but there are many ways to help make it more controllable. It’s important to learn to recognize any triggers that might cause you to have a flare-up, so you can avoid these triggers. Be sure to ask your doctor if you’ve tried to control your eczema on your own and you still need help, or if you have any questions or concerns. With your doctor’s help, it’s possible to make your eczema more manageable.

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PHYSICIAN CONTRIBUTOR young man scratching skin on arm

Treating Moderate to Severe Eczema

Because eczema can vary greatly in severity, a thorough understanding of treatment options is important.
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Medical Reviewers: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Review Date: Apr 4, 2017

© 2016 Healthgrades Operating Company, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Healthgrades Operating Company, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the Healthgrades User Agreement.

View Sources

Medical References

  1. Atopic dermatitis (eczema). Mayo Clinic. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/eczema/basics/definition/con-20032073
  2. Atopic dermatitis (eczema): Symptoms. Mayo Clinic. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/eczema/basics/symptoms/con-20032073
  3. Atopic dermatitis (eczema): Causes. Mayo Clinic. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/eczema/basics/causes/con-20032073
  4. What is Eczema? National Eczema Society. http://www.eczema.org/what-is-eczema
  5. Atopic. National Eczema Society. http://www.eczema.org/atopic
  6. Understanding your atopic dermatitis. National Eczema Association. https://nationaleczema.org/eczema/types-of-eczema/atopic-dermatitis/

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