Eczema is also known as atopic dermatitis and is a chronic skin condition that causes areas of the skin to become red, itchy, dry, and sometimes even cracked and leathery. Eczema can appear on any part of the body. This condition typically starts in early childhood but can occur at any age. Eczema is a long-lasting condition that tends to flare up periodically. Eczema is often linked with people who have a family history of atopy, which refers to the genetic tendency to develop allergic diseases like asthma and hay fever. Oftentimes those who develop eczema as infants or young children can outgrow the condition before adulthood.
What Causes Eczema?
Eczema often runs in families, there are some genes that cause some people to have sensitive skin. People with an overactive immune system may develop eczema. In some children, certain food allergies may play a role in causing eczema. It is not exactly known what specifically causes eczema, but it most often resembles an allergy. It is currently thought that eczema is caused by a combination of factors that could include:
- Abnormal function of the immune system
- Environmental factors
- Activities that may cause the skin to be more sensitive
- Defects in the skin barrier that allows moisture out and germs in
- Endocrine disorders like thyroid disease
Things that could trigger eczema include:
- Contact with irritating substances like wool, synthetic fabrics, and soap
- Heat and sweat
- Cold and dry climates
- Dry skin
Signs & Symptoms of Eczema
Signs and symptoms of eczema will vary from person to person and could include:
- Dry skin
- Itchy skin
- Red to brownish-gray patches, usually on hands, feet, ankles, wrists, neck, upper chest, eyelids, inside the bend of elbows and knees, and in infants, the face and scalp.
- Small raised bumps that may leak fluid and crust over
- Thickened cracked scaly skin
- Raw, sensitive, swollen skin from itching
How Is Eczema Diagnosed?
There is no lab test required to identify eczema. A doctor can usually diagnose eczema with a skin exam and medical history evaluation. Your doctor may do patch testing or other tests to rule out other skin diseases.
How Is Eczema Treated?
There are various treatment options available for eczema. You may need to try a variety of treatments to determine what works best for you. Good skincare is key to help ease your eczema, if your eczema is mild a good skincare regimen may be all you need, but if your eczema is more severe your doctor may recommend a medication. A basic skincare routine could involve using a mild soap and a good moisturizer, take short warm showers and apply your moisturizer right after bathing, and have good stress management by exercising and setting aside time to relax. There are numerous medications and other therapies that your doctor may recommend to treat your eczema, these could include:
- Hydrocortisone - an over the counter cream or ointment version could help mild eczema, if your eczema is severe you may need a prescription-strength hydrocortisone cream.
- Antihistamines - these can be purchased over the counter to help relieve your symptoms. Some antihistamines will make you drowsy and some will not, if this is a concern make sure to read the side effects carefully.
- Corticosteroids - These are prescribed by a doctor, typically only when other treatments do not work. An example of an oral corticosteroid is prednisone and works to relieve itching and inflammation. Corticosteroids also come in a topical form applied directly to the affected area and work to relieve itchiness, inflammation, dryness, and prevent flares from recurring.
- Phototherapy - This type of therapy can help if you have moderate to severe eczema. UV rays help prevent the immune system from overreacting. Phototherapy helps reduce itchiness and helps boost your body’s bacteria-fighting abilities. Doctors recommend the lowest dose possible as phototherapy does age your skin and increase your risk for skin cancer. There are two types of phototherapy:
- UV light therapy - this is performed in a dermatologists office, your skin is exposed to UVA and UVB rays. You will typically have sessions 2-5 times per week
- PUVA therapy - with this type you take a prescription medication called psoralen that makes your skin more sensitive to UVA light. This is recommended for people who haven’t seen results from UV therapy alone.
- Medications that work on the immune system - examples include azathioprine, cyclosporine, or methotrexate. These medications work to prevent your body’s defenses from overreacting. These come in the form of pills, liquids, or injection. Possible serious side effects could include high blood pressure and kidney problems.
- NSAID ointment - This is a prescription ointment, called Eucrisa, treats eczema and works to control inflammation and reduce your immune system response. This should not be used long term and should not be used on children younger than 2.
- Topical calcineurin inhibitors - Examples include pimecrolimus (Elidel) and tacrolimus (Protopic). These medications work to reduce inflammation, itchiness, dryness, and prevents future flares. They may cause skin pain when applied and increase your risk of skin cancer.
- Injectable medication - Dupilumab (Dupixent) is an injectable medication that is used to treat moderate to severe eczema. It works to control your body’s inflammatory response. This injection is typically given every 2 weeks and should only be used for people 12 years old and older.
- Prescription-strength moisturizers - these support your skin’s barrier
- Wet wrap therapy - This is a great option for those suffering from difficult to manage eczema. After you take a warm bath and apply medications the eczema damaged skin is wrapped in a layer of wet clothes sometimes soaked with corticosteroids.
Where to Receive Treatment Online for Eczema
- Alpha Medical
How to Prevent an Eczema Flare-up
- Moisturize your skin twice daily - Use whatever products work best for your skin, creams ointments, and lotions are great for sealing in moisture.
- Identify the triggers that worsen your condition - common triggers could include sweat, stress, obesity, soaps, detergents, dust, and pollen. Reduce your exposure to your triggers.
- Take shorter baths/showers
- Take a bleach bath - The American Academy of Dermatology recommends a bleach bath to help prevent flare-ups as it decreases bacteria on the skin. Dilute ½ cup of household bleach to a 40-gallon bathtub filled with warm water.
- Use gentle soaps - choose a mild soap, soaps with deodorant or antibacterial properties can remove natural oils and dry your skin.
- Dry yourself carefully - after bathing pat your skin gently to dry with a soft towel.
- Avoid getting overheated - getting hot and sweaty can trigger itching and scratching
- Ease stress - make time to relax
- Wear cotton clothes that fit comfortably
Eczema can cause uncomfortable side effects that can affect your overall health and well being. Thankfully, getting diagnosed and treated for eczema can be a simple process with the use of telemedicine. There are many online companies that can connect you with high-quality, board-certified physicians who can diagnose and treat your eczema today. If your eczema is interfering with your daily life check out our list of the top online doctors that can help bring you relief from your eczema today.