What is Eczema?

Eczema (eg-zuh-MUH) is the name for a group of conditions that cause the skin to become itchy, inflamed, or have a rash-like appearance. There are seven types of eczema: atopic dermatitis, contact dermatitis, dyshidrotic eczema, nummular eczema, seborrheic dermatitis, and stasis dermatitis.

Eczema is very common. In fact, over 31 million Americans have some form of eczema. Eczema can begin during childhood, adolescence, or adulthood and it can range from mild to severe.

Eczema 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 from outside or inside the body “switches on” the immune system, it produces inflammation. It is this inflammation that causes the symptoms common to most types of eczema.

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.

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:

  • Itch
  • Dry, sensitive skin
  • Inflamed, discolored 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 best way to find out if you have eczema is to consult with a medical professional who can look at your skin and ask about your symptoms.

Is there a cure 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

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.