How Is Eczema Diagnosed?

Medically Reviewed by Stephanie S. Gardner, MD on May 06, 2023
3 min read

Is eczema the cause of your red, itchy skin rash?

Eczema (or atopic dermatitis) is a long-term skin problem that flares up from time to time. You may have certain triggers that cause yours to flare up.

Eczema can cause:

  • Dry, itchy patches on your skin
  • Sensitive or inflamed skin
  • Patches that ooze or crust over
  • Swelling in the area of the outbreaks

Your eczema may cause a mild or severe itch. Some people with eczema scratch their skin until it bleeds.

If you think you have eczema, make an appointment with your doctor to be sure. Before your appointment, write down when your outbreaks happen and what seems to trigger them. Take your notes to your appointment and share them with your doctor.

If you’re looking into a rash on your child’s skin and you think food may be the cause, tell the doctor and ask about identifying possible food allergies.

At your appointment, the doctor will examine your skin and might give you some tests. Here’s what to expect:

First, your doctor will look closely at your skin and go over your medical history.

Your doctor may ask you:

  • When, how often, and where do your itchy patches appear?
  • Do you have allergies like hay fever, or are you allergic to pet hair or dander?
  • Do skin outbreaks seem to happen when you’re very stressed?
  • Do rashes seem to happen after your skin has touched something irritating, like scratchy fabrics or household cleaning products?
  • Do your flares happen when your skin is dry, or when the weather is very dry, hot, or cold?

Your doctor does not need any type of lab test to identify eczema. A skin exam and a review of your medical history should be enough. If your doctor isn’t sure that eczema is the cause of your skin problem, you might get some tests to rule out or diagnose a different problem, such as allergies. Doctors use skin patch or skin prick tests, for example, to see if certain allergic triggers cause a reaction on your skin. You might also need tests to identify conditions that go along with your eczema.

There’s no cure for eczema, but your doctor will tell you how to treat and manage it on your own. They may recommend that you:

  • Not scratch your skin.
  • Use a steroid or antihistamine cream to calm your itch.
  • Moisturize your skin a few times each day.
  • Add colloidal oatmeal or baking soda to a warm bath and soak your skin.
  • Take shorter showers or baths. Make sure the water is not too hot.
  • Keep your fingernails trimmed and filed smooth. If you do scratch your itchy patches, this can keep you from hurting your skin.

You may get a prescription for treatments that control your itch and calm your skin flares. Your doctor could refer you to a dermatologist or allergist if you need more specialized tests or treatments.