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.

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  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