How to Identify and Treat Eczema on the Legs

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Eczema, or dermatitis, is a group of inflammatory skin disorders that cause dry, inflamed, and intensely itchy skin. There are several types of eczema. The symptoms associated with eczema can develop on various body areas, including the legs.

This article discusses how to identify and treat eczema on the legs.

Person scratching rash on leg

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Symptoms of Eczema on the Legs

When eczema develops on the legs, the main symptoms can include:

  • Intense itch
  • Redness
  • Dry skin

A specific type of eczema that occurs on the lower legs, varicose eczema, can present with the typical symptoms of the condition as well as others, including:

  • Swelling
  • Flaky, scaly, or crusty skin
  • Discoloration (lighter skin will be red or brown, darker skin will be dark brown, purple, or gray)
  • Tenderness and tight skin
  • Pain
  • Leg ulcers, if left untreated

Causes of Eczema on the Legs

The cause of eczema isn't well understood. Some research suggests that there is a genetic component, and it's also thought that dysfunction in how the immune system works plays a role. Your environment may contribute to eczema development and flare-ups as well. Flare-ups are periods when the symptoms are worse.

In the specific case of varicose eczema, the condition and its symptoms arise because of increased pressure in the leg veins. Veins have valves to help with blood flow; if they stop working, the blood does not flow in the proper direction.

When that happens, blood can flow backward into the veins and cause pressure to build up. This pressure can lead to blood leaking into the tissues surrounding the veins.

Who Is Most Likely to Get Varicose Eczema?

Women, people with obesity, and people with deep vein thrombosis are the most likely to develop varicose eczema. Older adults are also at a higher risk.  

Eczema Treatment

There are many treatment options available for leg eczema. Because there is no cure for the condition, treatments revolve around reducing flare-ups and managing the condition as well as possible to avoid unwanted and sometimes debilitating symptoms. Treatment options can include:

  • Corticosteroids to reduce inflammation
  • Calcineurin inhibitors, which work to suppress the action of the immune system to prevent symptoms
  • Phototherapy, or light therapy, casts UV light on the area to stop skins cells that belong to the immune system from causing inflammation there
  • Oral medications for more severe cases, such as oral corticosteroids and immunosuppressants

Treatments for varicose eczema are similar. However, there are more options for this specific type, such as:

  • Improving circulation through lifestyle changes such as raising the legs frequently and getting more exercise
  • Wearing compression stockings every day to improve circulation
  • Using emollients, which are moisturizers designed to soften dry and rough skin

At-Home Remedies for Leg Eczema

In some mild cases, you may not need to seek medical treatment for your eczema if it is mild. Some at-home remedies include:

  • Use a cool compress on the area to relieve the itch
  • Take a colloidal oatmeal bath
  • Practice stress reduction techniques
  • Use over-the-counter creams that are formulated for eczema

Eczema Prevention

You can’t prevent eczema from developing. That said, you can avoid flare-ups. Eczema can often come and go, so even though a person with eczema has it for life, they may have symptom-free periods.

To try to extend the length of time between flare-ups, you can:

  • Use your medication as prescribed even if you feel as though you can manage without it.
  • Moisturize the area properly with eczema-approved lotions.
  • Identify and avoid any triggers.
  • Eat anti-inflammatory foods.
  • Engage in stress-reducing activities regularly.

How Common Are Flare-Ups and What Triggers Them?

Everyone with eczema will experience flare-ups, but the time between flare-ups will vary widely from person to person. Some possible triggers of an eczema flare-up include:

  • Letting the skin get dry
  • Irritants such as household cleaning products or harsh soaps and body washes
  • Emotional stress
  • Exposure to allergens
  • Hot or humid and cold or dry environments
  • Sun exposure
  • Sweating
  • Hormonal changes

When to See a Healthcare Provider

Anyone experiencing eczema should consult a dermatologist if they have not yet been diagnosed. Because the symptoms can worsen if you don’t manage them effectively, leaving your leg eczema alone will only do you a disservice. Your healthcare provider will examine the leg eczema and provide treatment options to help quell symptoms and ensure you know what you need to do to avoid flare-ups.

When you have seen a medical provider and know that you have leg eczema, you won’t need to contact them unless something about your condition has changed or your treatment plan isn’t working.

In the case of varicose eczema, seeing your medical provider is more important because the condition could indicate a blood flow problem. You may have to see a specialist for varicose eczema because of the issues with the blood vessels and blood flow in the legs.

Can Varicose Eczema Clear Up by Itself?

Varicose eczema requires treatment. Because of the underlying condition causing it, treatment will ensure proper blood flow. That will lessen the risk of leg ulcers.

Summary

Eczema is not one condition but an umbrella term for several, many of which can develop on the legs. When the skin disorder does occur, it leads to intense itchiness, dryness, and flaky skin on the legs. Though the cause isn't well understood, genetics and environment play a role in the development of eczema and how often flare-ups occur. One specific type that affects the legs, known as varicose eczema, results from inadequate blood flow and circulation in the legs.

Treatment options for eczema include medicinal creams or ointments, phototherapy, or drugs that suppress the action of the immune system. Varicose eczema may require more extensive treatment to remedy a person's issues with blood circulation.

If you notice any symptoms of leg eczema, you should contact your medical provider for an appointment. A proper diagnosis will lead to appropriate disease management and fewer uncomfortable flare-ups.

A Word From Verywell

Leg eczema can be so intensely itchy and dry that it makes day-to-day living difficult. That said, many therapy options available to you can treat your eczema and reduce flare-ups so that you don’t have to deal with the symptoms daily.

When you find a treatment that works for you, you can keep your legs safe from the unwanted symptoms of leg eczema between flare-ups. Flare-ups will occur, but you can also reduce their frequency. As long as you follow your medical provider’s instructions for eczema care, you can cope with the condition.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How do you get rid of eczema on your legs?

    There is no cure for eczema, so you can never get rid of eczema on your legs forever. That said, many treatment options can provide you with relief from the symptoms and clear up the irritation between flare-ups. Those treatments can include:

    • Corticosteroids
    • Immunosuppressants
    • Phototherapy
    • Lifestyle changes to improve blood flow, such as more exercise
    • An anti-inflammatory diet
  • What foods flare up eczema?

    Though food-induced flare-ups may differ from person to person, some foods can induce symptoms in people with the condition. Those foods can include:

    • Wheat
    • Cow’s milk
    • Eggs
    • Soy
  • How long do eczema flare-ups typically last?

    The length of a flare-up will depend on the type of eczema a person has and the severity. In some cases, it will last only one to three weeks. In people with proper treatment plans, symptom-free periods can last for years.

6 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.
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  2. UK National Health Service. Varicose eczema.

  3. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Home remedies: What can relieve itchy eczema?

  4. National Eczema Association. Eczema causes and triggers.

  5. Girolomoni G, Busà VM. Flare management in atopic dermatitis: from definition to treatment. Ther Adv Chronic Dis. 2022 Jan 13;13:20406223211066728. doi:10.1177/20406223211066728

  6. Katta R, Schlichte M. Diet and dermatitis: food triggers. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. 2014 Mar;7(3):30-36.

By Angelica Bottaro
Angelica Bottaro is a professional freelance writer with over 5 years of experience. She has been educated in both psychology and journalism, and her dual education has given her the research and writing skills needed to deliver sound and engaging content in the health space.