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Eczema (Atopic Dermatitis)


Eczema or atopic dermatitis is a chronic skin disorder that involves scaly and itchy rashes. Atopic dermatitis affects between 10% and 20% of children and 1% to 3% of adults.*

What causes Eczema?

Atopic eczema is due to a hypersensitivity reaction (similar to an allergy) in the skin, which leads to long-term inflammation of the skin.

What are the symptoms of eczema?

Typical skin changes may include:

  • Blisters with oozing and crusting
  • Ear discharge or bleeding
  • Raw areas of the skin from scratching
  • Skin coloring changes — more or less coloring than the normal skin tone
  • Skin redness or inflammation around the blisters
  • Thickened or leather-like areas, called lichenification, which can occur after long-term irritation and scratching

Both the type of rash and where the rash appears can depend on the age of the patient:

  • In children younger than age 2, skin lesions begin on the face, scalp, hands, and feet. It is often a crusting, bubbling, or oozing rash.
  • In older children and adults, the rash is more commonly seen on the inside of the knees and elbows, as well as the neck, hands, and feet.

During a severe outbreak, rashes may occur anywhere on the body. Itching, which is sometimes intense, almost always occurs. Itching may start even before the rash appears.

How is eczema diagnosed?

Diagnosis is primarily based on:

  • Appearance of the skin
  • Personal and family history

 A skin lesion biopsy may be performed, but is not always needed to make the diagnosis.

Allergy skin testing may be helpful for people with difficult-to-treat eczema or other allergy symptoms

Who is at risk for getting eczema?

Eczema is most common in infants. Many people outgrow it by early adulthood. The condition tends to run in families.

People with eczema often have asthma or hay fever, too.  Often people have a triad of conditions including asthma, allergies and eczema.

How is eczema treated?

Treatment is determined on an individual basis as prescribed by your physician.  Please contact our office to schedule an appointment with one of our allergy and asthma specialists.

Is there a cure for eczema?

Although there is no cure for eczema, it can be controlled with treatment, by avoiding irritants, and by keeping the skin well-moisturized.

In children, it often clears up beginning around age 5 – 6, but flareups will often occur. In adults, it is generally a long-term or recurring condition.

People with eczema tend to have dry skin that flares up more in the winter, when the air is cold and dry.

What are the possible complications of eczema?

Complications include infections of the skin caused by bacteria, fungi, or viruses and permanent scarring.

How can you prevent eczema from developing?

Studies have shown that children who are breast-fed until age 4 months are less likely to get eczema. If the child is not breast-fed, using a formula that contains processed cow milk protein (called partially hydrolyzed formula) may decrease the chances of developing eczema.

*Disease management of atopic dermatitis: An updated practice parameter. Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol. 2004; 93:S1-S21.

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