Eczema is an allergic skin condition also known as atopic dermatitis. It is a chronic condition that affects mainly children and infants, and the main characteristic of eczema is skin that is itchy and dry that also flakes and scales.
Sixty percent of cases occur within the first year of life, and up to 90% of cases occur by age 5. Eczema may last until the teenage years or into adulthood. When diagnosed in adulthood, eczema is usually a recurring or long-term condition. Between 50-75% of eczema patients may develop asthma and/or hay fever, and often, there’s a family history of hives, eczema, hay fever, asthma, or food allergies. An “itch/scratch cycle” can be caused by uncontrolled itchiness and lead to scratching and rubbing. This can also lead to lichenification, which is a thickening of the skin.
Eczema’s location on the body usually changes with age. It typically affects young children and infants on their knees, elbows, necks and cheeks. In adults and older children, the insides of elbows, behind the knees, feet and hands are often affected. The following may be symptoms:
- Oozing and crusting blisters
- Inflammation and redness
- Change in skin color
- Intense itching
- Raw areas of scratched skin
- Scaly skin
- Leathery, dry skin
There is no test for eczema, but an allergist can diagnose the condition based on both family history and visible skin symptoms. There is also no cure. Treatments generally aim to decrease the dryness of the skin and remove irritants. Patients who bathe daily using less than the usual amount of soap can see some relief. After a bath, a lubricating moisturizer can be applied to the skin while it’s damp, trapping in moisture. To help decrease some inflammation of the skin, topical steroid creams can be applied to the skin. This may also help reduce swelling and itching. In some cases, topical immunomodulators can be prescribed. These are steroid-sparing topical medicines, including pimecrolimus (Elidel) and tacrolimus (Protopic). Antihistamines such as Benadryl (diphenhydramine) and Atarax (hydroxyzine) may decrease itching but may cause drowsiness. Fingernails should be kept short because skin can often become infected from scratching. Topical and/or oral antibiotics can be used for such infections.
There are factors that can aggravate the condition and should be avoided. These may include: