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Itchy, inflamed skin isn’t just a nuisance – it can also be painful and disruptive to your daily life.

Eczema is a rash that impacts one in 10 individuals during their lifetime. For those with eczema, skin may become red and swollen, dry and scaly, or have crusty sores or blisters. It’s also extremely itchy, which can make the rash grow or last longer. 

Flare-ups of eczema may come and go, or even fade completely over time. Yet, if you’re experiencing eczema symptoms, you may feel like there’s no relief in sight. It’s important not to leave eczema untreated, as it can get worse, develop infection, or leave scars. 

At the Carolina Asthma & Allergy Center, we strongly encourage getting diagnosed and treated for eczema. The right care plan will alleviate itchiness, reduce future recurrences, and restore your quality of life. 

Table of contents

What is eczema?

Eczema is a rash that arises from a variety of skin conditions. Itchy patches appear on the skin, often becoming swollen or scaly. Sores or blisters may also emerge. If scratched, eczema can get worse and result in inflection.   

Remember that eczema varies greatly in appearance. Though eczema often looks different on children and adults, it also may vary from individual to individual, or even on different areas of the same body. 

Typically, eczema affects the bends of elbows and backs of knees, as well as the nape, wrists, ankles, backs of hands, tops of feet, groin and buttocks. It’s especially common on the scalp and cheeks of infants. 

It’s important to note that eczema isn’t contagious. That’s because eczema is the result of an individual’s immune system. Sometimes people outgrow eczema, or their flare-ups become less frequent over time – though others may have lifelong symptoms.

Types of Eczema

The two most common types of eczema are atopic dermatitis and contact dermatitis. 

Atopic dermatitis

Usually, people mean atopic dermatitis when they talk about eczema. Atopic dermatitis is the most common type of eczema, resulting from an abnormal reaction of the immune system. 

Because atopic dermatitis is a chronic condition, those with it will often experience flare-ups. It’s most developed in infancy, though about half of children will outgrow the condition. 

Contact dermatitis

On the other hand, contact dermatitis is caused by exposure to a particular substance. Irritants may include metals, plants, cosmetics, detergents, soaps, or toxic substances (such as a chemical or cleaner).

When the skin encounters an irritant, the eczema rash will appear. For this reason, contact dermatitis can be easily prevented by avoiding exposure to the irritant at fault.

Triggers & Risk factors

Eczema has several different triggers that can start symptoms or make them worse, including:

  • Dry skin
  • Sweating
  • Changes in temperature or humidity
  • Irritants (i.e. tight or scratchy clothing, metals, plants, cosmetics, detergents, soaps, perfumes, chemicals, cleaners and cigarette smoke)
  • Allergens (i.e. pollen, dust, pet dander, mites and mold
  • Respiratory infections or colds
  • Bacteria
  • Food allergies
  • Changes in hormone levels
  • Stress

In addition to these triggers, some people may be predisposed to developing eczema. For example, infants are more likely to develop eczema, with 90% of cases occurring before the age of five. 

Having allergies or asthma is also a significant risk factor for eczema. In fact, 20% of adults with atopic dermatitis have asthma. If you have allergic disorders, or a family history of them, you should be especially attentive to eczema symptoms and triggers.

Finally, long-term exposure to triggers, such as living in a cold climate or being exposed to secondhand smoke, may also increase your risk for eczema. 

Symptoms of Eczema

As mentioned, eczema ranges in appearance. It’s characterized by itchy patches of skin that may be or have:

  • Red and swollen
  • Dry and scaly
  • Crusty sores or blisters
  • Flushed or discolored
  • Rough and leathery
  • Raised bumps
  • Yellowish ooze

Remember that eczema can appear differently on skin tones. For example, eczema on black skin may have brown or purplish patches that are swollen or scaly. The affected skin may also develop raised bumps, especially on the arms and legs. 

While eczema can appear anywhere on the body, it’s most common increases such as the elbows, knees, necks, wrists, ankles, groin, buttocks, etc. 

Diagnosing Eczema

To diagnose eczema, a dermatologist or allergist will examine your affected skin, as well as get a thorough medical history. 

If the doctor suspects contact dermatitis, he/she will do a patch test to determine what’s triggering your symptoms. A patch test involves applying tiny amounts of irritants onto your skin to see if you have a reaction.

As eczema is often linked with allergic disorders and asthma, you doctor might also perform other allergy tests to inhalants, pollens, or foods at your appointment. 

Treating Eczema

There’s no cure for eczema, so treatment programs will focus on alleviating symptoms and preventing future recurrences. 

First, doctors will recommend robust lifestyle changes for better skin health, such as regularly moisturizing skin, using a bedroom humidifier, changing a bathing routine, or wearing loose-fitting clothing. 

Whenever possible, you should also take preventive measures to avoid being exposed to eczema triggers. Because eczema often flares up from stress, you may also work on reducing stress through relaxation techniques. 

Finally, your doctor may prescribe some medications to reduce the itchiness. Here are some typical medications and therapies for eczema:

  • Anti-inflammatory topical creams to manage itch
  • Antihistamines to control itch at night
  • Calcineurin inhibitors to reduce your immune response
  • Phototherapy to heal your rash with UV light
  • Moisturizers/ Emollients
  • Biologic agents such as Dupixent

Why choose the Carolina Asthma & Allergy Center

At Carolina Asthma & Allergy Center, our board-certified physicians advocate for children and adults with eczema. We provide world-class diagnostic and therapeutic services so that patients have a holistic understanding of their skin condition. 

Ultimately, our high standards of care have made us a regional leader in asthma and allergy practice. Just ask our patients how we work together to restore their quality of life. Reach out to get more information or schedule an appointment. 

Eczema FAQs

Is eczema contagious?

No, eczema isn’t contagious. Eczema results from an individual’s immune system, which means it can’t be passed between people.

Is eczema curable?

Unfortunately, eczema isn’t curable. Instead, symptoms of eczema can be managed through lifestyle changes, preventive measures and anti-inflammatory medications. In severe cases, doctors may recommend calcineurin inhibitors to directly reduce the immune response.

What is the difference between eczema and psoriasis?

While both eczema and psoriasis cause skin rashes, they differ in appearance and triggers. With psoriasis, itchiness may sting and the rash may be thicker and more inflamed. Psoriasis may also be triggered by sunburn or a recent vaccination. On the other hand, eczema is extremely itchy and may look swollen, scaly or crusty. Eczema may be triggered by a wide range of irritants, such as chemicals or allergens. Another telling sign? Psoriasis is rare in babies and young children, while eczema is quite common.

What cures eczema fast?

Generally speaking, you can’t cure eczema. However, you can relieve symptoms of eczema through lifestyle changes and anti-inflammatory medications. Often home remedies such regularly moisturizing skin can make a difference, too.