Eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis, is a chronic inflammation of the outer layers of the skin.
The exact cause of eczema is not known. Factors that may contribute to eczema include:
Eczema is more common in people of African or Asian descent.
Factors that increase your chance of eczema include:
hay feverUrban areas or places with low humidityA family history of eczema or allergic disordersExposure to certain fabrics, perfumes in soaps, dust mites (common), or foodsStress, especially if it leads to scratchingFrequent washing of affected areasUse of rubber gloves in persons sensitive to latexScratching or rubbing of skinImmunosuppressant medicationsExcess weight or obesity
The symptoms vary from person to person. Scratching and rubbing can cause or worsen some of the symptoms.
Dry, itchy skinCracks behind the ears or in other skin creasesRed rashes on the cheeks, arms, and legsRed, scaly skinThick, leathery skinSmall, raised bumps on the skinCrusting, oozing, or cracking of the skinSymptoms that worsen in the winter when inside air is dry due to central heating
You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. The diagnosis is made by the appearance and location of the rash. You may be referred to specialist. A dermatologist focuses on skin disorders. An allergist focuses on allergies.
The main goals of eczema treatments are to:
Heal the skin and keep it healthyStop scratching or rubbingAvoid skin infectionPrevent flare-upsIdentify and avoid triggers
Treatment options may vary. Your doctor may recommend more than one depending on your condition. They include:
Proper skin care may allow the skin to heal. Treatment may include the following: Avoid hot or long baths or showers. Keep them less than 15 minutes.Use mild, unscented bar soap or non-soap cleanser. Use it sparingly.Air-dry or gently pat dry after bathing. Apply gentle moisturizer when your skin is still damp.Treat skin infections right away.
In some cases, medication may also be needed and may include: Prescription creams and ointments containing cortisone, tacrolimus, or pimecrolimusPrescription or over-the-counter antihistamines to help prevent itchingAntibiotics applied directly to the skin or taken by mouth in order to treat infections
Oral medications, such as prednisone
cyclosporine for severe cases
If skin care and medications are not effective, light therapy may be used. This may include: Treatment with ultraviolet A light and 5-methoxypsoralen (PUVA) Photopheresis—For severe cases
It is difficult to prevent eczema. This is most true when there is a strong family history.
American Academy of Dermatology website. Available at:
Accessed January 22, 2015.
National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases website. Available at:
Updated May 2013. Accessed January 22, 2015.
Brehler R, Hildebrand A, Luger T. Recent developments in treatment of atopic eczema.
J Am Acad Dermatol. 1997;36(6 Pt 1):983-994.
Mohla G, Horvath N, Stevens S. Quality of life improvement in a patient with severe atopic dermatitis treated with photopheresis.
J Am Acad Dermatol. 1999;40(5 Pt 1):780-782.
Saarinen UM, Kajosaari M. Breastfeeding as prophylaxis against atopic disease: prospective follow-up study until 17 years old.
American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology website. Available at:
Accessed January 22, 2015.
Last reviewed March 2016 by James Cornell, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
Copyright © EBSCO Publishing. All rights reserved.