Eczema is a chronic condition characterized by areas of skin that are dry, itchy and irritated. There may also be blisters that ooze and form crusts. The symptoms are caused by a skin reaction that is often noted in people who have allergies, such as hay fever or asthma. The causes of the skin reaction are not clear.
- Eczema can develop anywhere on the body. In infants, it is often seen on the cheeks, scalp, arms or legs. In older people, it is often seen on the back of elbows or knees, ankles, wrists, face and upper body (torso).
- The symptoms of eczema can vary from mild (a few small spots) to severe (patches that cover large areas of skin). The symptoms can go away completely for long periods of time.
Eczema is not contagious. You have an increased risk of developing eczema if other members of your family have a history of eczema or allergies.
- Eczema typically begins in childhood. It is often outgrown by the time a child reaches adulthood.
- Adults who develop eczema often find it to be a lifelong (chronic) condition.
The symptoms of eczema can come and go. They can also range from mild to severe. Often the attacks are caused by a “trigger.” Triggers can also make the eczema more difficult to treat. Some common triggers include:
- Certain foods (diet)
- Excessive sweating
- Skin that is dry or being in air that is dry
- Extreme temperature variations (extreme heat or cold)
- Irritating substances or chemicals (soaps, detergents, perfumes, and cosmetics)
- Allergens (pollen, dust mites, mold, or certain animals)
- Viral illnesses
There is no cure for eczema, so treatment is focused on controlling the symptoms, decreasing the itching and preventing infection. Some of the things you can do at home include:
- Keeping your skin moist by applying ointments or lotions several times a day
- Avoiding known triggers
- Avoiding hot, long baths (prolonged and frequent exposure to water increases dryness of skin)
- Use soaps and cleansers that do not contain harsh chemicals or perfumes
If your eczema is severe, your healthcare provider may recommend:
- Over-the-counter antihistamines
- Prescription creams and ointments
- Prescription medications that target the immune system
- Phototherapy (the use of a special light to the affected areas)
- An antibiotic if you have a secondary bacterial infection
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Contact your healthcare provider if you have symptoms of eczema.
- Bring a copy of your medical history (past illnesses, surgeries, and hospitalizations).
- Make a list of your medications (including over-the-counter).
- Write down any questions, symptoms or concerns you want to talk about. Be prepared to discuss your symptoms, how long you have had them, if you have had them before and if they are progressing or changing.
- If your healthcare provider wants you to take a medication, ask if an over-the-counter product is right for you.
- If your healthcare provider prescribes a medication for you, ask for a generic version. If your doctor thinks that a generic version is not right for you, ask for a medication on the lowest available tier of your Prescription Drug List (PDL).
Here are some questions to ask your healthcare provider.
- Do I need to see a specialist?
- What is the treatment for eczema? What options are available?
- How long will it take my symptoms to improve?
- What are some of the complications of eczema? Am I at high risk for complications?
- If medication is recommended, how long will I need to take it? What are the possible side effects?
- What are my follow-up plans and what symptoms should I report before my next appointment?