Also known as: dermatitis, eczema

What is eczema?

Eczema is a chronic skin condition (frequently found in infants but can also occur in adults), characterized by one or more areas (anywhere on the body), of itchy, red, dry (and sometimes cracked) thickened skin patches. The most common form of eczema is atopic dermatitis which usually starts before the age of 5 years (often in infancy) and may persist through adolescence (though frequently resolves by puberty) to adulthood.

What causes eczema?

While the exact cause of eczema is unknown, it runs in families, particularly those with a history of allergies, eczema, hay fever or asthma and seems to be due to a number of abnormal genes which results in an extra-sensitive skin to allergens.

An over-reactive autoimmune system (the body’s own defense mechanism) contributes to an inflammatory process that makes the skin more likely to lose moisture and become infected.

A number of environmental factors can trigger eczema. These include:

  • stress
  • skin contact with irritating chemicals or fabrics
  • heat,
  • sweat
  • cold dry climate
  • certain foods
  • and situations which cause the skin to dry and the patches tend to periodically flare up (return).

What are the signs/symptoms of eczema?

Signs/symptoms can vary between children but common sites in infants and children include the scalp, face /around the eyes and behind the ears, neck, front of elbows, wrists, groin, behind the knees, and around the ankle.  The red patches may become infected from scratching which causes them to look raw, red, swollen, bumpy and may leak fluid.

What are eczema care options?

There is no cure for eczema and it can be resistant to treatment. Regular skin moisturizing with oils, creams or ointments available either over-the-counter or by prescription (corticosteroids and other oral or injectable drugs to regulate the immune response), wet dressings, light therapy, and drugs to fight infection, all may soothe the itchy skin.

Avoiding environmental triggers (extreme temperatures or dryness or sweating), keeping the skin covered with cotton (not wool, or non-breathing fabrics like polyesters) and removing pet dander, dust mites or other allergic triggers may be beneficial.

Reviewed by: Jack Wolfsdorf, MD, FAAP

This page was last updated on: May 05, 2021 01:55 PM