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Eczema is a dry, itchy, inflamed skin condition. It affects approximately 5 to 20 percent of children worldwide. Nearly half of those with eczema outgrow the condition or have significant improvements as they grow older. Adults who have never had eczema as a child can also develop eczema.

What causes eczema?

The cause of eczema is not completely understood. It’s thought that the skin condition may result from a combination of genetics, environmental triggers, and immune system activation. In most people with eczema, there is a genetic abnormality with the outermost layer of skin that decreases its ability to serve as the first line of defense between the body and the environment. The immune system overreacts to microorganisms, small irritants and allergens that breach through the skin.

What are the symptoms of eczema?

Eczema symptoms vary from one person to another and can change over time. Symptoms include:

  • Itching of the skin, which may be more intense at night

  • Patches of inflamed skin

  • Small bumps

  • Thickened, cracked, scaly skin

  • Skin flaking

Scratching can further inflame the skin, worsen the itching, and can lead to infection of the skin. Signs of infection include painful red bumps that may leak pus.

How is eczema diagnosed?

The diagnosis is usually made based on medical history, symptoms, and skin examination. If someone is thought to have allergic eczema, an allergy test may be done, either by a blood test or by a skin-prick test.

How can eczema be managed?

Eczema is a chronic skin condition with no cure but regular skin care and medication can keep the itching and rash under control. Strategies to keep eczema at bay include:

  • Avoidance of triggers

  • Keeping skin hydrated with thick creams and ointments several times a day

  • Use of wet dressings to help soothe and hydrate the skin.

  • Use of a humidifier

  • Use of over-the-counter antihistamine for itch relief

  • Topical steroids as recommended by the doctor for mild to moderate symptoms

  • Prescription antibiotics for skin infection from open sore, cracks, and scratching

  • Other prescription medications such as topical immunomodulators for severe eczema that does not respond to other treatment

  • Ultraviolet light therapy as recommended by the doctor for severe eczema that does not respond to other treatments

References [Internet]. Cologne, Germany: Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG); 2006-. Eczema: Overview. 2013 Sep 26 [Updated 2017 Feb 23].

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