Eczema

Also known as atopic dermatitis

Eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis, is an inflammatory skin condition that causes a scaly, inflamed, itchy rash. It can affect people of all ages, but it occurs more frequently in children, especially before age five, than in adults.

Although the exact cause of eczema is unknown, it’s believed to be the result of both genetic and environmental factors. Since no tests can diagnose eczema, doctors diagnose it based on a physical exam and whether the symptoms meet specific diagnostic criteria.

Treatments options include: 

  • Moisturizers
  • Over-the-counter topical steroids
  • Prescription medications 
  • Treatments that alleviate skin inflammation

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What does eczema look like?

    Different types of eczema can look different and show up in different places, they all share classic signs and symptoms that characterize the condition, which include:

    • Dry, scaly patches of skin
    • Areas of swelling and redness
    • Oozing bumps that crust over (particularly where the skin is scratched)
    • Skin discoloration (either lighter or darker) after the rash has healed
    • Areas of thick, leathery skin (especially in adults)
  • Is eczema contagious?

    No, eczema is not contagious. You can’t catch it or spread it to someone else. Eczema is believed to be caused by a genetic defect combined with environmental factors, so it isn’t like a skin infection that can be passed from person to person.

  • What causes eczema?

    The cause of eczema isn't clear, but it's believed to be a combination of genetic and environmental factors. A known mutation interferes with production of a protein called filaggrin, which provides skin cells structure and helps them retain moisture. This allows allergens and irritants to enter cells and trigger inflammation.

  • How can I get rid of eczema?

    There’s no cure, so treatment is aimed at managing symptoms. Eczema is treated with:

  • Is eczema itchy?

    Yes, eczema is quite itchy. In fact, an itch may be the first eczema symptom you experience, and scratching that itch may be what causes the rash to erupt on your skin. This is called the acute stage. As your skin heals, though, you enter the subacute stage, which is usually characterized by less itchiness. Your doctor should be able to help you find treatments that quiet the itch.

  • What’s the difference between eczema and psoriasis?

    Eczema and psoriasis both cause red, scaly rashes that come and go. However, eczema favors the crook of elbows and knees, and psoriasis is on the outside of joints. Eczema can make skin look dark and leathery, while psoriasis features silvery scales. Both are immune system-related, but eczema involves the overproduction of T-cells and psoriasis is an autoimmune disease that targets skin cells.

Key Terms

Black child in a teal shirt sits with a doctor while using an inhaler
Atopic March: Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis
Young woman coughing
Dupixent (Dupilumab): An Injectable Medication
Ashley Wall
My Journey with Eczema: From Pain to Purpose
Eczema
Eczema on Dark Skin: Appearance, Diagnosis, Management
Topical Cream
Desonate (Desonide) Topical: Uses, Side Effects, Dosages
Topical Ointment Gel
Elidel (Pimecrolimus) Topical : Uses, Side Effects, Dosages
young Asian woman with acne applying acne cream on her face
How to Tell Eczema and Acne Apart
Woman and child in a swimming pool
Chlorine and Eczema
Young woman scratching her arm while sitting on the stool in the home kitchen.
Step-by-Step Guide to Using Baking Soda for Eczema
Woman scratching arm
What Is Flexural Eczema?
Itchy rash
What Is Follicular Eczema?
Woman reaching for inhaler
Eczema and Asthma: Is There a Connection?
Woman scratching arm
Preventing and Treating Eczema Scars
Moisturizing dry skin
What Is Asteatotic Eczema?
Neem oil in bottle and neem leaf on wooden background
Neem Oil for Eczema: Safety, Benefits, and Interactions
psyche terry cropped portrait
Psyche Terry: Using My Eczema Experience to Help Others
eczema or dermatitis on the eyelid
Why Your Eyelids May Be Itchy
Woman scratching chest
What Is Breast Eczema?
hands of a patient with psoriasis close-up under an ultraviolet lamp
Is Phototherapy Right for Your Eczema?
Mid adult soldier shows dermatologist rash on arm
How Atopic Dermatitis Is Treated
Close-Up Side View Of Baby Girl With Eczema On Her Cheek
What Causes Eczema in Babies and Adults?
ground turmeric
What Are the Health Benefits of Turmeric for Eczema and Your Skin?
Young person scratching red area on inside arm
Does Eczema Increase the Risk of Skin Infections?
baby with eczema on cheek
How Are Atopic Dermatitis and Eczema Different?
eczema of the arm
What Are the 7 Types of Eczema?
African-American woman applies a patch of cream to her hand.
Is Zinc Oxide Helpful for Eczema?
A white person's hands holding a dark brown glass bottle of yellow oil and a dropper full of yellow oil on a yellow-green background.
Does CBD for Eczema Really Work?
eczema
What Is Papular Eczema?
Varicose vein on leg
What Is Varicose Eczema?
a man with groin pain
What Is Genital Eczema?
Caring single mother applying skin lotion on her baby boy while he is sitting on a changing bed in his nursery
How Is Ringworm Different From Nummular Eczema?
Person with dark skin and black hair scratches their upper arm
What Is Weeping Eczema?
Close up of a white person's hand, they are applying raw aloe to the top of their knuckle.
How to Use Aloe Vera for Eczema
A person with their two hands together showing nails
What's the Difference Between Nail Eczema and Nail Psoriasis?
at the dertmatologist
Scabies vs. Eczema: What Are the Differences?
man in underwear
Managing Eczema on the Penis and Around the Genitals
An adult wipes cream on a light skinned baby's face
Baby Eczema: Symptoms and Treatment
Shea butter
Should You Use Shea Butter on Your Eczema?
Apple cider vinegar
Can Apple Cider Vinegar Treat Eczema?
Itchy skin
An Overview of Atopic Dermatitis
Bath
Bleach Baths for Eczema: Tips for Using Bleach on Skin
olive oil
Everything to Know About Olive Oil for Eczema
a boy with dry, itchy lips scratching his face
Eczema on Lips: Types, Symptoms, Treatment, and More
An unseen person in a gray shirt holding a dropper and dropping clear liquid on their hand.
Is Tea Tree Oil Good For Eczema?
Toddler eczema treatment with cream
Learn how to spot and treat toddler eczema
oatmeal
Using an Oatmeal Bath to Treat Eczema
Applying coconut oil
Should You Use Coconut Oil for Your Eczema?
Doctor and patient using digital tablet in the office
What To Know About Eczema and COVID-19
Female doctor speaking with female patient in office
What Is Groin Eczema?
ear eczema
What You Need to Know About Eczema in and on Your Ears
woman consulting with her doctor online
Telehealth for Eczema (Atopic Dermatitis)
Using moisturizer for atopic dermatitis
Strategies for Coping With Advanced Atopic Dermatitis
Rear View Of Woman Scratching Head Against Colored Background
An Overview of Eczema on The Scalp
pensive woman in front of the window
Emotions and Eczema
Baby eczema usually improves over time
When Your Baby Has Eczema
Irritated skin
Irritants, Stress, and Dry Skin Can All Worsen Eczema
Woman scratch the itch with hand
Is Protopic Your Choice for Eczema Control?
Cream medication in a tube
Using Temovate (Clobetasol) Cream to Treat Your Skin Rash
Hands chopping vegetables
Is There Such Thing as a Diet for Eczema?
Hand itching
What to Know About Rashes on the Hands
Page Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Pyun BY. Natural history and risk factors of atopic dermatitis in children. Allergy Asthma Immunol Res. 2015;7(2):101-5. doi:10.4168/aair.2015.7.2.101