What is eczema?
Eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis, is one of the most common skin disorders that causes rashes. Eczema is characterized by red, itchy skin. In severe cases, the skin can crack and bleed. It tends to flare up periodically and then subside for a time. Eczema most often begins before age 5 and may persist into adolescence and adulthood. For some people, it flares up periodically and then clears up for a time, even for several years.
Which areas of the body are most affected by eczema?
Eczema can appear anywhere on the body, but it most often presents as patches on the following areas of the body:
What are the most common symptoms of eczema? What does eczema look like?
- Dry, raw, red, swollen, sensitive skin
- Thickened, cracked, scaly skin
- Red to brownish gray patches, especially on the hands, feet, ankles, wrists, neck, upper chest, eyelids, and inside the bend of the elbows and knees
- Small, raised bumps which may leak fluid and crust over when scratched
- Itching, which may be severe, especially at night
I’m itchy! Can I scratch my rash?
Never scratch your rash, no matter how itchy it becomes. If you break open the lesions by scratching, you run the risk of contracting a painful bacterial infection within your rash. Scratching can also cause intense damage to the inner layers of skin, which will not only lengthen your healing time, but will also make your condition harder to treat.
Is Eczema contagious?
Eczema is not contagious except in a very rare form, known as eczema herpeticum. This form of eczema is caused by an infection related to the herpes simplex virus.
What types of treatments are available for eczema?
Creams and Ointments
Medicated creams and ointments can control itching and help repair skin. Your doctor may prescribe a corticosteroid cream or ointment depending on the severity of your eczema. Calcineurin inhibitors, which treat symptoms but do not cure eczema, are also available in cream form. These medications reduce skin inflammation by blocking the production of calcineurin in the skin, the chemical that causes redness and itching.
Medication to Fight Infection
In severe cases of eczema, the skin may have open sores or cracks. These can lead to infection, so your doctor may prescribe an antibiotic cream. If an infection develops, your doctor may prescribe oral antibiotics.
Oral medication may be helpful in controlling inflammation, especially if your eczema has become painful. For severe flare ups, your doctor may prescribe oral corticosteroids. These can only be used short term due to adverse side effects, but they help jumpstart the healing process in severe eczema cases.
Light therapy is an option when other treatments do not work or when a patient experiences rapidly recurring flare ups after treatment. The simplest form of light therapy involves exposing the skin to controlled amounts of natural sunlight. Other forms use artificial ultraviolet light either alone or with medications. Though effective, long term light therapy has harmful effects, including premature skin aging and an increased risk of skin cancer. For these reasons, light therapy is only used as a last resort.