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Could your itchy rash be a symptom of eczema? Perhaps. Eczema, also called dermatitis, is a term that covers many types of inflammatory skin problems. The rashes tend to come and go, and often run in families. Some experts estimate that eczema affects a third of the world's people at some time in their lives. The best way to know for sure if you have eczema is to see a doctor. Until you make that appointment, however, check out this list of common eczema symptoms.

Common Eczema Symptoms

Symptoms of eczema often begin in babies. But children and adults can have eczema. No two people have exactly the same eczema symptoms. The severity of eczema symptoms also varies from person to person. In general, eczema symptoms often appear as skin patches that can be:

  • Very itchy
  • Red
  • Dry
  • Swollen
  • Sore

With time, an eczema rash often becomes crusty and scaly. Some types of eczema can also blister, weep, crack, or peel. An infection or too much scratching can make eczema symptoms worse. Over time, scratching can even make the skin become thick and leathery.

You can have eczema anywhere and everywhere, but eczema often appears as a rash on the:

  • Insides of elbows
  • Backs of knees
  • Face, often on the cheeks
  • Behind the ears
  • Buttocks
  • Hands and feet

Sometimes, you may have other skin changes along with eczema, such as small raised bumps or hives. Or, there may be an extra fold of skin under the eyes.

Possible Eczema Complications

Scratching too much can cause a break in the skin. This allows bacteria or viruses to enter and can lead to infection. Sometimes, long-term use of medications to control eczema can also cause complications.

Although eczema symptoms tend to subside as babies grow into children, people who had eczema as infants are at higher risk for other skin problems throughout life. These might include easily irritated skin, skin infections, or eyelid dermatitis.

Diagnosing Eczema

The best way to diagnose eczema is for a doctor to take thorough medical and family histories. To confirm an eczema diagnosis, the doctor may ask about:

  • A history of asthma or allergic reactions, such as to pollen, pets, or certain foods
  • Substances that irritate the skin such as soaps or cosmetics
  • Any recent extra stress
  • Where and when the symptoms appeared
  • Any treatment used for other skin conditions

The doctor can sometimes tell by looking at the rash whether or not it is eczema. But it may take more than one visit to rule out other problems. The doctor might also refer you to a specialist such as a dermatologist or allergist. Although there is no test for eczema, allergy testing can help pinpoint any allergic triggers. Other common triggers include irritants, heat, or emotions.

Questions to Ask the Doctor About Eczema

When you talk with the doctor, be sure to get your questions about eczema answered. Here are some to get you started:

  • What is the cause of my eczema?
  • What's the best way to treat eczema?
  • Do I need a prescription for medication?
  • Is there anything new that might work better than what I've tried in the past?
  • Can I prevent a new outbreak of eczema?
  • When should I call you?