Eczema is a dry, itchy, red skin rash that damages your “skin barrier function” — otherwise known as the protective properties of skin that shield us from dangers like excessive dehydration or too much sun exposure. It causes the outermost layer of your body to become more sensitive and prone to infection.
While it’s not contagious, eczema can become a persistent and frustrating problem. Symptoms include:
- Dry, itchy skin
- Red and brown or gray patches that appear on the hands, wrists, ankles, feet, insides of the elbows, and on the backs of knees
- Small raised bumps that leak fluid and become crusty when scratched
- Inflamed patches of skin
- Thick, swollen, or scaly skin
Nearly 15 million Americans experience some form of eczema. Men and women are equally affected, but it is more common in people who have a family history of food and environmental allergies or asthma. The most common form of eczema is atopic dermatitis.
There is no permanent cure for eczema, but certain lifestyle changes and treatments may ease itching and prevent future breakouts.
Clean and Healthy Habits
If you have a history of eczema flare-ups, a consistent home routine can help. Do any or all of the following:
- Use soap-free, oil-free, and unscented hair and body products.
- Drink plenty of water to keep your skin hydrated.
- Clean your house regularly to eliminate allergens like pollen, mold, and tobacco smoke.
- Avoid stress that can lead to flare-ups by incorporating exercise, meditation, or counseling into your daily and weekly schedule.
It’s also a good idea to remove anything that may irritate your skin from your environment — like certain lotions, soaps, and fabrics. If you’re allergic to food items or fur from particular animals, avoid those, too.
Oral and Topical Medication
Many over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription treatments are available for people with eczema. You may work with your doctor and try several options to determine the best medications for your skin.
A health care professional may recommend one or more of the following:
- Antihistamines: These block histamines, which cause allergy symptoms, like redness and itching. They are effective but may cause you to feel tired.
- Antibiotics: Scratching your skin can introduce bacteria and cause a skin infection. Oral antibiotics eliminate this bacteria and can ease eczema symptoms. Take the entire course of antibiotics.
- Corticosteroids: A prescription pill, liquid, or shot that’s used for more severe cases. This steroid type has serious side effects when used for long periods and is usually only used to stop a flare-up.
- Cyclosporine: A medication that suppresses the immune system to prevent flare-ups. It can be taken as a pill or liquid. Talk to your doctor about potential side effects.
- Methotrexate: This treatment is also an immunosuppressant that can help manage eczema. However, there is evidence it can harm the liver if used for long periods.
- Phototherapy: Light therapy relies on specific wavelengths of ultraviolet (UV) light to target the immune system and stop inflammation.
- Topical Steroid Creams: An ointment or cream applied directly to the affected area to ease inflammation and swelling. Steroid creams come in different strengths. Overusing them can lead to discoloration and thinning of the skin.
When To See Your Doctor
Eczema symptoms range from mild to severe and make you more prone to skin infections. See a doctor if you or your child are experiencing:
- Discomfort and pain that keeps you from sleeping or functioning normally
- Excessive eczema symptoms even after trying over-the-counter or home treatments
- Worsening skin infections — especially if they include pus, red streaks, or yellow scabs
If any or all of these symptoms are accompanied by a fever, seek medical attention immediately.
Eczema Remedies For Children
About 10% to 20% of infants develop eczema, with the rash typically appearing on the face and scalp. In most cases, this condition improves after age five and may disappear for good.
Medical experts believe it’s a genetic condition or passed from parents to their kids. Symptoms can vary depending on the age of the child.
In more severe cases, infants can develop eczema on uncommon areas like the torso, elbows, and knees. Children and teens will notice the rash in the inner elbows, behind the knees, on the neck, or wrists and ankles. The skin may appear drier, thicker, and develop a scaly texture.
There are some steps you can take to treat your child's eczema or prevent future flare-ups:
- Avoid skincare products with heavy fragrances and other possible irritants.
- Cut your child’s fingernails and encourage them to wear gloves to prevent skin damage from excessive scratching.
- Maintain a routine of bathing, moisturizing, and applying age-appropriate treatments recommended by a pediatrician. Ask your doctor about the “soak and seal” method.
- Talk to a pediatrician or dermatologist about the benefits of oatmeal baths or bleach baths to reduce inflammation and discourage bacterial growth.
- Boost the effectiveness of any topical medication and rehydrate the skin by using wet wrap therapy. This can also prevent your child from scratching their skin.