Young women's version of this guide

Our skin comes in contact with many different things such as the weather, clothes, soaps and lotions, and a variety of products. Many of us will have a skin rash from time to time, but people with eczema have very sensitive skin and chronic skin problems.

What is eczema?

Eczema, pronounced “eck-zeh-ma” is a chronic skin condition. The medical word for it is “atopic dermatitis”. If you have eczema, your skin is likely to feel itchy, red, rough, dry, scaly, and sometimes, it may feel bumpy. It’s not contagious, so others can’t catch it from you.

What causes eczema?

There is no known cause for eczema, but many medical experts believe that a person is more likely to develop eczema if a family member has it, if they have allergies, if they have asthma, or if they have a problem with their immune system (the bodies’ natural defense against disease). If one or both of your parents have eczema, asthma, hay fever, or another allergic condition, you’re at risk for having symptoms too, but your symptoms may be mild, moderate, or severe.

Who gets eczema?

Eczema is a common skin condition that can affect anyone, at any age. It most often appears during the first 5 years of life, but it can also start during the teen years or even when you’re an adult.

What are the symptoms of eczema?

Symptoms of eczema include:

  • Itchy skin – the itching can be mild to intense and is often worse at night
  • Areas of dry, red, scaly or flaky skin
  • Patches of darker and thicker skin- caused from scratching or rubbing
  • Small bumps on the face, upper arms, and thighs
  • Bleeding or crusting from scratched or infected areas

Is there a test for eczema?

Unfortunately there’s no test for eczema. The only way to diagnose eczema is by having your health care provider or dermatologist (skin specialist) look at your skin and ask you questions about your and your family’s medical history.

How is eczema treated?

While there is no cure for eczema, there are many treatments to help manage the symptoms. Since dry skin leads to itchiness and inflammation, the goal of treatment is to find the best cream or ointment that will keep your skin moisturized (not dry) and lessen inflammation. Although eczema can be uncomfortable, there are things you can do to help your skin feel better.

Types of treatment include:

  • Moisturizing lotions and creams to keep skin moist
  • Antihistamine medicine to lessen itchiness
  • Prescription creams that contain steroid medicine to lessen inflammation
  • Wet compresses to soothe and hydrate skin
  • UV (ultraviolet) light therapy (also known as phototherapy – done in a health care providers )
  • Prescription medicine can be used for severe cases of eczema.

Will my eczema ever go away?

Most young children who have eczema get better by the time they go to school. Some people may actually outgrow their symptoms during the adult years, but others may have it for the rest of their lives. There’s no way to tell if your eczema will go away completely, but it’s very possible that your symptoms may lessen as you get older. You may have occasional “flare-ups” (times when your skin is particularly sensitive and reacts to things in the environment).

Is there anything else I can do to lessen the chance of flare-ups?

Yes. Besides following the treatment plan that your health care provider or dermatologist gives you, you can avoid “triggers” or irritants that make your symptoms worse.

Things that may cause a flare-up:What you can do:
Too much bathing, showering, or swimmingLimit your time in the water. Pat your skin dry and apply moisturizing lotion frequently. Try to bathe in cooler water as possible, not scalding hot water.

Apply moisturizer frequently, including immediately after a bath or shower. It’s important that your skin is still partially wet to help maximize hydration.

Sweating too muchWear clothing made from natural and breathable fabrics such as 100% cotton and avoid getting overheated.
Sudden temperature changes, humidityAvoid being outside during extreme weather conditions.
Harsh soaps, cosmetics, perfumeUse mild soap and  and avoid scented products (such as scented lotions). If you use make-up make sure it’s hypoallergenic.
Wool or man-made fabrics (polyester)Avoid wearing clothing that irritates your skin. Stick with fabrics such as cotton.
Cleaning productsUse mild, chemical-free cleaning products. Wear gloves when using strong cleaning products.

If your symptoms don’t get better with treatment and the above suggestions, your health care provider might do allergy testing to see if something else is causing your eczema. Some people with eczema have allergies to things such as dust, pollen and pets.

If you’re concerned about eczema, here’s a tip on how to bring it up with your provider: “My skin is really itchy and red, is there anything I can do about it?”
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