(Atopic Dermatitis)


Eczema (also called atopic dermatitis) is a chronic inflammation of the outer layers of the skin.


The exact cause of eczema is not known. Factors that may contribute to eczema include:

Risk Factors

Eczema is more common in people of African or Asian descent.

Other factors that may increase the chances of eczema:

  • A personal history of asthma or allergies
  • Living in urban areas or places with low humidity
  • A family history of eczema or allergic disorders
  • Exposure to certain fabrics, perfumes in soaps, dust mites (common), or foods
  • Stress, especially if it leads to scratching
  • Frequent washing of affected areas
  • Use of rubber gloves in persons sensitive to latex
  • Scratching or rubbing of skin
  • Medications that suppress the immune system
  • Excess weight or obesity


Eczema symptoms vary from person to person. Scratching and rubbing can cause or worsen some of the symptoms. Symptoms include:

  • Dry, itchy skin
  • Cracks behind the ears or in other skin creases
  • Red rashes on the cheeks, arms, and legs
  • Red, scaly skin
  • Thick, leathery skin
  • Small, raised bumps on the skin
  • Crusting, oozing, or cracking of the skin


You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. The diagnosis is made by the appearance and location of the rash. You may be referred to specialist.


The main goals of eczema treatments are to:

  • Heal the skin and keep it healthy
  • Stop the itching
  • Prevent scratching or rubbing of the affected skin
  • Avoid skin infection
  • Prevent flare-ups
  • Identify and avoid triggers

Treatment options may vary. Your doctor may recommend more than one depending on your condition. They include:

Skin Care

Proper skin care may allow the skin to heal. Treatment may include:

  • Avoiding hot or long baths or showers. Keep them less than 15 minutes.
  • Using mild, unscented bar soap or non-soap cleanser. Use it sparingly.
  • Air-drying or gently pat drying after bathing. Apply gentle moisturizer when your skin is still damp.
  • Treating skin infections right away.


In some cases, medications may be needed. Examples include:

  • Prescription creams and ointments containing cortisone, tacrolimus, pimecrolimus, or crisabarole
  • Prescription or over-the-counter antihistamines to help prevent itching
  • Antibiotics applied directly to the skin or taken by mouth in order to treat infections
  • Oral medications to reduce inflammation
  • Monoclonal antibody injection to reduce inflammation


If skin care and medications are not effective, light therapy may be used. This may include:

  • Treatment with ultraviolet light
  • Adding psoralen, a medication used to sensitize the skin for light therapy


Eczema is difficult to prevent, especially if there is a family history.


American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology
National Eczema Association


Canadian Dermatology Association


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Eczema and atopic dermatitis. Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians website. Available at: Updated June 2017. Accessed March 6, 2018.
What is eczema? National Eczema Association website. Available at: Accessed March 6, 2018.
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7/14/2017 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance : Blauvelt A, deBruin-Weller M, et al. Long-term management of moderate-to-severe atopic dermatitis with dupilumab and cocomitant topical corticosteroids (LIBERTY AND CHRONOS): a 1-year, randomised, double-blinded, placebo-controlled, phase 3 trial. Lancet. 2017;389(10086):2287-2303.
Last reviewed March 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Monica Zangwill, MD, MPH
Last Updated: 1/4/2016

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