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Eczema can be a frustrating skin condition, whether you get it a few times a year or deal with it every day. It's important to work closely with your health care provider to develop an eczema treatment plan that will help you control the itch and rash. Eczema treatment has four major goals:

  1. Control the itch
  2. Heal the skin
  3. Prevent flares  
  4. Prevent infection

Treatment is based on your age, medical history, severity of symptoms, and other factors. Health experts usually recommend a combination of therapies for best effect. But you also play a role in keeping your skin healthy and clear. It's also important for you to use good skin care and avoid eczema triggers. Here's your complete guide to eczema treatments.

Medications to Treat Eczema

Eczema medications can safely relieve symptoms and help the skin heal when used as directed. Of course, not everyone responds the same way to different eczema treatments. So you and your health care provider may need to try a few different therapies to see what works best for you.

Topical corticosteroids. Creams and ointments with hydrocortisone steroids quickly help relieve itching and reduce inflammation. They come in different strengths from mild over-the-counter (OTC) treatments to stronger prescription medicines. Over-the-counter hydrocortisone is often used first for mild eczema treatment. You may need different strengths of topical steroids depending on the location and severity of the rash. For example, a health care provider may prescribe a more potent topical steroid for thickened, scaly skin affected by eczema. When used as directed, side effects such as thinning skin and stretch marks are rare.

Barrier repair moisturizers. These eczema treatments are available OTC and by prescription. They help lock water into skin, repair damaged skin, and reduce dryness, redness, and itching. Although some products may contain ceramide, a type of fat that occurs naturally in the skin's outer layer, they may also contain irritating fragrances or other ingredients.

Topical immunomodulators. Pimecrolimus and tacrolimus, when applied to the skin, treat moderate to severe eczema in some patients. These medications work by reducing inflammation, but they are not steroids. The FDA issued a black box warning for these drugs because of concerns that use may increase the risk of skin cancer and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Systemic corticosteroids. These powerful drugs help relieve symptoms of severe or difficult-to-treat eczema. Because of the risk for side effects such as skin damage and bone loss, systemic corticosteroids are only used for short periods of time. They may be given as pills, a liquid, or as a shot.

Immunosuppressants. These drugs include cyclosporine, methotrexate, and mycophenolate mofetil. They help suppress the overreaction of the immune system. Immunosuppressants are given as pills, liquids, or as an injection. They are used for moderate to severe eczema that hasn't responded to other treatments. Serious side effects include high blood pressure and kidney problems. To limit the risk for side effects, these medicines are only used for a short period of time.

Antibiotics. Eczema causes skin to itch. Scratching damages the skin, and this allows bacteria to enter and cause an infection. Antibiotics treat these bacterial skin infections.

Antihistamines. Used at nighttime, these drugs help relieve itching symptoms and have a sedating effect that may help you sleep.