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Get the tools and support you need to best manage your eczema

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What is Eczema?

Chances are, you’re here to look for answers about eczema (eg-zuh-MUH) and find support.

You might have first noticed an itchy, red patch on your baby’s cheeks, chin, or chest that she or he scratched until it became even more irritated. Sound familiar? Or maybe you experienced something similar on your own neck, inner elbows, or behind your knees.

Atopic dermatitis on the hands

Eczema can appear anywhere on the body

That’s probably when you made an appointment with your doctor, who looked at it, talked to you about your symptoms, asked you questions about your family history and the types of products you use on your skin and in your home. Then your doctor told you it was eczema.

So what exactly is eczema? Who can get it and why? And what should you do, now that you or your child has been diagnosed?

Learning more about what kind of eczema you have and what may have triggered it, is the best starting point to treating and managing it, so that your eczema doesn’t get in the way of your everyday life.

The good news is you’ve come to the right place. We’re here to help guide you — with all of the tools and support you’ll need — every step of the way.

Types of eczema

Eczema is the name for a group of conditions that cause the skin to become itchy, inflamed or have a rash-like appearance that may appear red in lighter skin tones or gray, purple or ashen in darker skin tones. There are seven types of eczema: atopic dermatitis, contact dermatitis, dyshidrotic eczema, nummular eczema, seborrheic dermatitis and stasis dermatitis.

Eczema is very common. And in many cases, it’s also manageable. In fact, over 31 million Americans have some form of eczema.

Picture of eczema on the backs of knees

Eczema flares often show up on the backs of the knees

Living with eczema can be an ongoing challenge. The word “eczema” is derived from a Greek word meaning “to boil over,” which is a good description for the itchy, inflamed and red or darker-colored patches that occur during flare-ups. Eczema can range from mild, moderate to severe.

It’s most common for babies and children to develop eczema on their face (especially the cheeks and chin), but it can appear anywhere on the body and symptoms may be different from one child to the next. More often than not, eczema goes away as a child grows older, though some children will continue to experience eczema into adulthood.

Adults can develop eczema, too, even if they never had it as a child.

Is eczema contagious?

Atopic dermatitis and eczema often appears in infantsEczema is not contagious. You can’t “catch it” from someone else. While the exact cause of eczema is unknown, researchers do know that people who develop eczema do so because of a combination of genes and environmental triggers. When an irritant or an allergen “switches on” the immune system, skin cells don’t behave as they should causing an eczema flare-up.

What are the treatments for eczema?

There is no cure for eczema but there are treatments. Depending on age and eczema severity, these treatments include over-the-counter (OTC) remedies, prescription topical medications, phototherapy, immunosuppressants and biologic drugs. Many people with eczema also find success with specific natural and alternative treatments.

For most types of eczema, managing flares comes down to these basics:

  • Know your triggers so that you can avoid exposure
  • Implement a daily bathing and moisturizing routine
  • Use OTC and prescription medication consistently and as prescribed

What are the symptoms of eczema?

The most important thing to remember is that eczema and its symptoms are different for everyone. Your eczema may not look the same on you as it does on another adult or on your child. Different types of eczema may even appear in different areas of the body at different times.

picture of eczema rash on the neck

Eczema is usually itchy

Eczema is usually itchy. For many people, the itch can range from mild to moderate. But in some cases, it can become much worse and you might develop extremely inflamed skin. Sometimes the itch gets so bad that people scratch it until it bleeds, which can make your eczema worse. This is called the “itch-scratch cycle.”

What to look for:

  • Dry, sensitive skin
  • Inflamed skin that appears red in lighter skin tones or gray, purple or ashen in darker skin tones
  • Very bad itching
  • Dark colored patches of skin
  • Rough, leathery or scaly patches of skin
  • Oozing or crusting
  • Areas of swelling

You might have all of these symptoms of eczema or only just a few. You might have some flare-ups or your symptoms could go away entirely. The only way to truly know if you have eczema is to consult with a medical professional who can look at your skin and ask about your symptoms.

What is the difference between eczema and atopic dermatitis?

Eczema is a general term for dermatitis, which simply means inflammation of the skin. All types of eczema cause itching and redness or discoloration, and some will blister, weep or peel.

There are several types of eczema. Atopic dermatitis considered a severe and chronic (long-lasting) form.

The term “eczema” is often used interchangeably with “atopic dermatitis.” However, each type of eczema, including atopic dermatitis, has somewhat different triggers, symptoms and treatments. That’s why it’s important to know which type or types you have so that you are best able to manage it.