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Atopic Dermatitis (Eczema) - Medications

Medicines for atopic dermatitis are used to help control itching and heal the rash. If you or your child has a very mild itch and rash, you may be able to control it without medicine by using home treatment and preventive measures. But if symptoms are getting worse despite home treatment, you will need to use medical treatment to prevent the itch-scratch-rash cycle from getting out of control.

Medicine choices

Topical medicines, such as creams or ointments, are applied directly to the skin. Other medicines, such as oral corticosteroids or antihistamines, are taken as pills.

  • Topical corticosteroids are the most common and effective treatment for atopic dermatitis. They are used until the rash clears.
  • Calcineurin inhibitors are topical immunosuppressants—medicines that weaken your body's immune system. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends caution when prescribing or using Elidel (pimecrolimus) cream and Protopic (tacrolimus) ointment because of a potential cancer risk.3 The FDA also stresses that these medicines only be used as directed and only after trying other treatment options. These medicines aren't approved for children younger than 2 years of age.
  • Antihistamines are often used to treat atopic dermatitis itch. They can also help you sleep when severe night itching is a problem. But histamines aren't always involved in atopic dermatitis itch, so these medicines may not help all people. Don't give antihistamines to your child unless you've checked with the doctor first.
  • Oral corticosteroids are used in severe cases when the rash covers large areas of the body or when complications occur.
  • CyclosporineCyclosporine or interferoninterferon is sometimes used in adults if other treatment doesn't help.
  • Antibiotic, antiviral, or antifungal medicinesAntibiotic, antiviral, or antifungal medicines are used if the rash gets infected. Skin that has been broken down by scratching and inflammation can become infected.
  • Coal tarCoal tar applied to the skin may help reduce itching. But this medicine should not be used on skin that is very irritated, because it can make your skin problem worse. Tar preparations are sometimes used to control the condition after a stronger medicine has successfully improved atopic dermatitis.

    This information is produced and provided by the National Cancer Institute (NCI). The information in this topic may have changed since it was written. For the most current information, contact the National Cancer Institute via the Internet web site at http:// cancer .gov or call 1-800-4-CANCER.

    WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

    Last Updated: March 12, 2014
    This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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