What Is Eczema?

Eczema is a general term for many types of skin inflammation (dermatitis). Eczema is synonymous with atopic dermatitis. Typically, eczematous skin is itchy, red, and dry -- even cracked and leathery. Eczema most frequently appears on the face and extremities, but it can show up in other areas, too. Eczema is not contagious, but since it is believed to be at least partially inherited, it is not uncommon to find members of the same family affected.

Here are some key points about eczema. More detail and supporting information is in the main article.
  • Eczema affects an estimated 9-30% of the US population.2
  • People living in dry climates and cities appear to be more likely to develop eczema.2
  • Eczema occurs equally in both males and females.2
  • Eczema is likely related to conditions that adversely affect the skin's barrier function (including genetic factors, nutrient deficiencies, bacterial infection, and dry, irritated skin).9
  • Stress and other emotional factors do not cause atopic dermatitis, but they can make the condition worse.2
  • Certain foods such as nuts and dairy can trigger the symptoms.5
  • Eczema can also be triggered by environmental factors such as smoke and pollen.5
  • Atopic dermatitis has strong connections with other atopic diseases, such as asthma and hay fever.5
  • Children with ADHD, or who attend day care have a higher risk of atopic dermatitis.9
  • Treatment focuses on healing damaged skin and alleviating the symptoms.7
  • There is no single test that can be used to diagnose eczema.2
  • For some eczema will disappear completely, but for others it remains a lifelong condition.8

Who Can Get Eczema?

Eczema can affect people of any age, although the condition is most common in infants, and about 85% of those affected have an onset prior to 5 years of age. Eczema will permanently resolve by age 3 in about half of affected infants. In others, the condition tends to recur throughout life. People with eczema often have a family history of the condition or a family history of other allergic conditions, such as asthma or hay fever. Eczema is slightly more common in girls than in boys and occurs in people of all races.

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. It may even appear in different areas of the body at different times.

Eczema is usually itchy. For many people, the itch is usually only mild, or 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:
  • Dry, sensitive skin
  • Red, inflamed skin
  • Very bad itching
  • Dark colored patches of 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. But the only way to know if you have eczema for sure, is to visit your doctor so he or she can look at your skin and ask you about your symptoms.

Understanding your eczema

You might have first noticed an itchy, red patch on your baby’s cheeks, chin, or chest that she or he scratched until it became even more irritated. Sound familiar? Or maybe you experienced something similar on your own neck, inner elbows, or behind your knees.

That’s probably when you made an appointment with your doctor, who looked at it, talked to you about your symptoms, asked you questions about your family history and the types of products you use on your skin and in your home. Then your doctor told you it was eczema.

So what exactly is eczema? Who can get it and why? And what should you do, now that you or your child has been diagnosed?

Learning more about what kind of eczema you have and what may have triggered it, is the best starting point to treating and managing it, so that your eczema doesn't get in the way of your everyday life.

The good news is you've come to the right place. We’re here to help guide you — with all of the tools and support you’ll need — every step of the way.

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