Eczema: Symptoms, treatment, and causes

Eczema is a condition where patches of skin become inflamed, itchy, red, cracked, and rough. Blisters may sometimes occur.

Different stages and types of eczema affect 31.6 percent of people in the United States.

The word “eczema” is also used specifically to talk about atopic dermatitis, the most common type of eczema.

“Atopic” refers to a collection of diseases involving the immune system, including atopic dermatitis, asthma, and hay fever. Dermatitis is an inflammation of the skin.

Some people outgrow the condition, while others will continue to have it throughout adulthood.

This MNT Knowledge Center article will explain what eczema is and discuss the symptoms, causes, treatments, and types.

Fast facts on eczema

Here are some key points about eczema. More detail and supporting information is in the main article.

Certain foods can trigger symptoms, such as nuts and dairy.

Symptoms vary according to the age of the person with eczema, but they often include scaly, itchy patches of skin.

Eczema can also be triggered by environmental factors like smoke and pollen. However, eczema is not a curable condition.

Treatment focuses on healing damaged skin and alleviating symptoms. There is not yet a full cure for eczema, but symptoms can be managed.

Eczema is not a contagious condition.


Woman rubbing cream onto eczema

The symptoms of atopic dermatitis can vary, depending on the age of the person with the condition.

Atopic dermatitis commonly occurs in infants, with dry and scaly patches appearing on the skin. These patches are often intensely itchy.

Most people develop atopic dermatitis before the age of 5 years. Half of those who develop the condition in childhood continue to have symptoms as an adult.

However, these symptoms are often different to those experienced by children.

People with the condition will often experience periods of time where their symptoms flare up or worsen, followed by periods of time where their symptoms will improve or clear up.

Symptoms in infants under 2 years old

Rashes commonly appear on the scalp and cheeks.

Rashes usually bubble up before leaking fluid.

Rashes can cause extreme itchiness. This may interfere with sleeping. Continuous rubbing and scratching can lead to skin infections.

Symptoms in children aged 2 years until puberty

Rashes commonly appear behind the creases of elbows or knees.

They are also common on the neck, wrists, ankles, and the crease between buttock and legs.

Over time, the following symptoms can occur:

Rashes can become bumpy.

Rashes can lighten or darken in color.

Rashes can thicken in a process known as lichenification. The rashes can then develop knots and a permanent itch.

Symptoms in adults

Rashes commonly appear in creases of the elbows or knees or the nape of the neck.

Rashes cover much of the body.

Rashes can be especially prominent on the neck, face, and around the eyes.

Rashes can cause very dry skin.

Rashes can be permanently itchy.

Rashes in adults can be more scaly than those occurring in children.

Rashes can lead to skin infections.

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