How long does eczema last?

Eczema Treatment

The key to staying healthy while living with eczema is to keep symptoms under control. For most types of eczema, managing the condition and its symptoms comes down to these basics:

  • Know your triggers
  • Implement a regular bathing and moisturizing routine
  • Use OTC and/or prescription medication consistently and as prescribed
  • Watch for signs of infection — pus-filled bumps, pain, redness, heat — on the skin

Some other things you can do to help manage eczema symptoms:

  • Cultivate a care team of providers who are expert in treating eczema to help you find the right treatment.
  • Recognize stressful situations and events — and learn to avoid or cope with them by using techniques for stress management. You may do this on your own, or with the help of your doctor or psychologist.
  • Tap into the wisdom of other people coping with eczema.
  • Try not to scratch and rub the affected skin — and limit contact with materials or substances that may irritate your skin. Dress in soft, breathable clothing and avoid itchy fabrics like wool, that can further irritate your eczema.

However, some people find that even when they do all the “right” things, their eczema still flares. Eczema can be an unpredictable disease, and there is much still to learn about it. Having an eczema flare “out of the blue” is common and can happen despite your best efforts.

Download our fact sheet on the basics of eczema skin care.

A long, hot shower: irritant or treatment?

Water can be one of the best forms of eczema therapy — but only if you bathe or shower properly

  • Discover why lukewarm water is better for your condition, plus tips to upgrade your bathing routine
  • Learn the basics of moisturizing — like how much to apply and when
  • Get step by step instructions for “soak and seal,” bleach baths, and wet wraps

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And you’ll also get the NEA “Eczema Basics” booklets for adults and children

What treatments and medications are available for eczema?

There is no cure for eczema but there are treatments, and more are coming. Depending on the type of eczema and severity, treatments include lifestyle changes, over-the-counter (OTC) remedies, prescription topical, oral and injectable medications, phototherapy and biologic drugs.

Remember that eczema symptoms can be different for everyone. Not everyone will respond to a treatment in the same way, so it’s best to familiarize yourself with all of the options and talk to your doctor to find a treatment regimen that works for you.

Common eczema treatments

OTC products

Over-the-counter (OTC) treatments are products or medications you can buy without a prescription. Some OTC eczema treatments are used for moisturizing skin; some are used to help skin symptoms such as rash, redness and itch; and some are for gently cleaning skin to prevent infection.

Explore OTC products that earned the NEA Seal of Acceptance.

Bathing

The most effective way to treat dry skin is to give it the moisture it needs through proper bathing and moisturizing. Soak in a warm bath or take a shower and then moisturize immediately afterward (within three minutes). You can help calm specific symptoms of eczema by adding bleach, vinegar, salt, oatmeal or baking soda to your bath water.

Learn more about bathing as a treatment for eczema.

Moisturizing

When your skin gets too dry, it can become irritated and cause your eczema to flare. Wind, low humidity, cold temperatures, harsh soaps and too much washing without the use of a moisturizer immediately after, all can lead to dry skin.

Many people with eczema have drier-than-normal skin due to an imbalance in the topmost protective layer of skin called the skin barrier. When functioning normally, our skin barrier helps keep irritants and allergens out and moisture in. That’s why bathing and properly moisturizing to maintain a healthy skin barrier are key to help control your eczema symptoms. It’s important to understand how and when to properly moisturize, and which products are best to use when you have eczema.

Learn more about moisturizing as a treatment for eczema.

Prescription topicals

Prescription topical medications include corticosteroids (steroids), PDE4 inhibitors, topical calcineurin inhibitors (TCIs) and skin barrier creams. Available through your doctor, these medications are applied to the affected area of the skin to help ease redness, rash, dryness and itching.

Learn more about prescription topicals as a treatment for eczema.

Phototherapy

In phototherapy, a special machine is used to emit narrowband ultraviolet B (UVB) light onto the skin in order to help reduce itching and inflammation, increase vitamin D production and bacteria-fighting systems in the skin.

Learn more about phototherapy as a treatment for eczema.

Systemic medications (Immunosuppressants)

While the exact cause of eczema is not known, researchers understand that that the immune system is involved. In eczema, the immune system overreacts and produces inflammation, which leads to symptoms such as itching, redness and skin barrier problems.

If you have severe eczema, your doctor may prescribe you a type medication called an immunosuppressant. An immunosuppressant drug helps control, or suppress, the immune system in order to slow down the symptoms of severe eczema.

Learn more about immunosuppressants as a treatment for eczema.

Biologics

Biologic drugs or “biologics” target a particular piece of the immune system reaction that contributes to atopic dermatitis symptoms. They contain genetically engineered proteins derived from human genes and are administered intravenously (through the vein) as infusions to target specific parts of the immune system that trigger inflammation.

Learn more about biologics as a treatment for eczema.

Complementary and alternative therapies

Studies have shown that certain complementary and alternative therapies can be beneficial in controlling the symptoms of eczema. These include some supplements, plant-based topicals such as coconut oils, meditation and biofeedback.

Learn more about complementary and alternative treatments for eczema.

Atopic Dermatitis

What is atopic dermatitis?

Atopic dermatitis (also known as AD) is the most common type of eczema. In fact, more than 18 million American adults have atopic dermatitis — which often appears as a red, itchy rash normally on the cheeks, arms and legs.

Severe atopic dermatitis on an adult arm

Atopic dermatitis typically begins in childhood, usually in the first six months of a baby’s life. Even though it’s a common form of eczema, it’s also severe and long-lasting. When you or your child have atopic dermatitis, it may improve at times, but at others it may get worse. Often, atopic dermatitis disappears as a child grows older, though some children will have atopic dermatitis flares into adulthood.

Atopic dermatitis exists with two other allergic conditions: asthma and hay fever (allergic rhinitis). People who have asthma and/or hay fever or who have family members who do, are more likely to develop AD.

What causes atopic dermatitis?

Atopic dermatitis on the backs of the knees coupled with a staph infection

We don’t know the exact cause of atopic dermatitis. Researchers do know that a combination of genetics and other factors are involved. When a substance from inside or outside the body triggers the immune system, it over-reacts and produces inflammation. It is this inflammation that causes the skin to become red, rashy and itchy.

Research also shows that some people with eczema, especially atopic dermatitis, have a mutation of the gene responsible for creating filaggrin. Filaggrin is a protein that helps our bodies maintain a healthy, protective barrier on the very top layer of the skin. Without enough filaggrin to build a strong skin barrier, moisture can escape and bacteria, viruses and more can enter. This is why many people with atopic have very dry and infection-prone skin.

We also know that atopic dermatitis runs in families, but we don’t know the exact way it is passed from parents to children. If one parent has AD, asthma, or hay fever, there’s about a 50% chance that their child will have at least one of these diseases. If both parents have one or more of these conditions, the chances are much greater that their child will, too.

An estimated 10% of all people worldwide are affected by atopic dermatitis at some point in their life. The condition seems to be more common in urban areas and developed countries. Either way, atopic dermatitis is not contagious. You or your child cannot “catch” it from another person, or give it to someone else.

Itching for relief?

If you scratch too much, it could cause your atopic dermatitis to flare up

  • Get tips on managing the itch — like keeping your hands busy with other activities so you’re less likely to scratch
  • Understand which allergens and substances can further irritate your atopic dermatitis
  • Learn more about the best fabrics to wear that won’t irritate your skin
  • Explore simple changes you can make in your daily life to help your symptoms

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What’s the difference between eczema and atopic dermatitis?

Atopic dermatitis is considered a more severe type of eczema. People with atopic dermatitis may experience a number of different sensitivities for the rest of their lives:

  • Dry skin that becomes easily irritated
  • Occupational skin diseases like hand dermatitis
  • Skin infections like staph and herpes
  • Eye problems like eyelid dermatitis or cataracts

There are other types of eczema that cause itching and redness, but some will also cause your skin to blister, “weep,” or peel. It’s important to understand which of the different types of eczema you or your child may have, so that you can better treat and manage it. The only way to be sure that you or your child has this condition is to make an appointment with your health care provider.

Atopic dermatitis rash, dry skin and scale on the feet of an adult male

Learn more about the different types of eczema and their symptoms and triggers.

What are the symptoms of atopic dermatitis?

Atopic dermatitis is chronic, meaning it does not usually go away in a few days or weeks. It might get better or worse but the symptoms typically return.

Atopic dermatitis is very itchy. Your or your child’s skin can become damaged from repeated scratching or rubbing. Atopic dermatitis normally appears on the cheeks, arms and legs, but can be anywhere on the body.

Symptoms of atopic dermatitis include:

  • Dry, scaly skin
  • Redness
  • Itching
  • Cracks behind the ears
  • A rash on the cheeks, arms and/or legs
  • Open, crusted or “weepy” sores (usually during flares)

If the skin becomes infected, it may form a yellow crust or small pus-filled bumps. The skin may also become thicker from scratching and rubbing.

Other types of eczema, such as contact dermatitis may look like atopic dermatitis. It is possible to have atopic dermatitis and another type of eczema at once.

What makes atopic dermatitis flare or get worse?

When trying to identify triggers that might aggravate your atopic dermatitis, keep in mind that a flare can appear some time after exposure.

Though triggers can vary from person to person, some of the most common atopic dermatitis triggers include:

  • Dry skin — which can easily become brittle, scaly, rough, and tight
  • Chemical irritants — everyday products or substances (hand and dish soap, laundry detergent, shampoo, bubble bath and body wash, or surface cleaners and disinfectants) that can cause your skin to burn and itch, or become dry and red
  • Stress can cause a person’s atopic dermatitis to flare or get worse
  • Hot/cold temps and sweating can lead to itchy skin or “prickly heat” symptoms from the heat and/or sweating and very dry skin can develop during the cold winter months
  • Infection from bacteria and viruses that live in your environment (like staph, herpes, or certain types of fungi)
  • Allergens from everyday materials in the environment like seasonal pollen, dust mites, pet dander and mold
  • Hormones — flares may happen, especially in women, when certain hormones in the body increase or decrease

Learn more about the most common causes and triggers of eczema.

How can I control my atopic dermatitis?

Atopic dermatitis with thickened (lichenified) skin from repeated scratching

Managing atopic dermatitis comes down to these basics:

  • Know your triggers
  • Implement a regular bathing and moisturizing routine
  • Use OTC and/or prescription medication consistently and as prescribed
  • Watch for signs of infection — pus-filled bumps, pain, redness, heat — on the skin

When managing atopic dermatitis, it is important to be consistent with skin care including using OTC and prescription medications as directed.

Here are some things you can do to help control your atopic dermatitis:

  • Establish a daily skin care routine focused on bathing and moisturing and using OTC and prescription treatments as directed.
  • Try to pinpoint your atopic dermatitis triggers, but don’t worry if you are unable to identify them all.
  • As much as you are able, try not to scratch and rub the affected skin. Dress in soft, breathable clothing and avoid itchy fabrics like wool.
  • Remove common, everyday allergens from your home.
  • Seek support from others coping with atopic dermatitis.

Treatment for atopic dermatitis

Depending on the severity of symptoms, atopic dermatitis can be treated with topical medications, which are applied to the skin; phototherapy, a form of light treatment; immunosuppressant drugs that broadly curb the immune system; and biologic drugs that target specific areas of the immune system. In extreme cases, systemic (taken by mouth or injection) steroids are used, though not recommended for the treatment of atopic dermatitis.

Learn more about how to control and treat your atopic dermatitis.

So the best way to combat dryness is to double down on moisturizing. Linkner recommends her patients apply moisturizer right after taking a quick, lukewarm shower. “Showers should be business not pleasure,” she says. “People think you add moisture when you bathe and wash your hands, but you’re actually stripping your skin of moisture, so less is more.” Once you’re out of the shower, pat dry. The skin should still be damp when you add a moisturizer. If you have serious eczema, you might want to moisturize again after getting home from work and once more before bed. And don’t forget to plug in your humidifier in the evening, which adds moisture to the dry air.

When it comes to choosing a moisturizer, you want to avoid any skincare products with heavy fragrance. “Technically, some fragrance-free products do have some fragrance,” says Linkner. “So you want to make sure it says ‘unscented’.” Downie likes Aveeno Eczema Therapy Itch Relief Balm ($23), and Linkner recommends Cetaphil Moisturizing Cream ($15). Recent studies have also shown that petroleum jelly like Vaseline ($4) can help prevent the development of eczema in babies who have a family history of the disorder.

In addition to getting a heavy-duty moisturizer, take care with your choice of body wash, laundry detergent, and fabric softener sheets. Stock up on Dove bars for sensitive skin ($13) and All Free Clear detergent ($8). Also don’t forget your hands and feet (which are common places to get eczema as an adult). Linkner recommends using something a bit greasier on the thick skin in these areas. Keep a small tube of Aquaphor Healing Ointment ($7) at your desk or in your purse to reapply after you wash your hands.

If you are prone to eczema, wool clothing can also cause irritation. So, stick to loose-fitting cotton tops during this time of year. It’s also important to trim your nails as short as possible. “Scratching 100 percent makes it worse,” says Downie. “And if you don’t have weapons, you won’t go to war.” Linkner agrees, “I tell my patients, ‘If I were to put you in a straight jacket, a lot of your eczema would disappear.’ The itching kind of causes the scratching, which causes inflammation, and it all feeds back on to itself.” If your eczema flare-up is particularly itchy, ice the area or take an allergy medication like Zyrtec or Claritin to keep from scratching.

What if moisturizer isn’t cutting it and the itch won’t go away?

If these moisturizing strategies aren’t working, your dermatologist can prescribe medications to help with the eczema treatment. First, your doctor may recommend using a cortisone or another steroid cream for a week or so. “Steroid creams target the cells that are creating that inflammation and turn those cells off,” says Linkner. There are also other topical treatments like Elidel for moderate cases.

Severe, full-body cases might also benefit from phototherapy. This eczema treatment is also used on autoimmune disorders like psoriasis and vitiligo. “You get into the light booth where the bulbs emit a narrow band of UVB light,” says Linkner. “It’s very different than going to the beach. It’s taking out the safest portion of UV light and exposing your eczema for very short amounts of .” This light treatment helps reduce inflammation with only a few minutes of treatment.

In the most extreme cases of atopic dermatitis, patients could end up in the hospital with fever and chills. “Your skin is the biggest organ of your body, so if the barrier is not intact and you’re itchy all over, it’s not going to be a good,” says Downie. “Perhaps you’re scratching so much; and there is staph underneath your fingernails; and you have an infection.” A compromised skin barrier opens up your body to other infections and viruses. “If you have eczema, it’s easier for you to get warts,” says Downie. “If you have cold sores (otherwise known as the herpes virus), it could be worse because your barrier is not completely intact.” Luckily, there are many innovations happening in the treatment of eczema.

“Currently there is no cure for eczema, but I do think that in our lifetime there will be,” says Linkner. “There are injectable medications in clinical trials that are gaining traction.” One of these drugs, called Dupilumab, was given a breakthrough therapy designation by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and could be on the market as soon as 2017.

Treatments

You can’t cure eczema. But there are things you can do to ease flares and maybe even stop them from happening.

Avoid triggers. Figure out what causes your skin problems and try to avoid those triggers. For example, if certain soaps or fabrics seem to cause rashes, stop using them. Try to avoid cigarette smoke, animal dander, and pollen if those seem to make your skin worse.

Take care of your skin. It’s key to keep your skin moisturized. The best choices are thick creams or ointments that have little water. Put them on as soon as you get out of the shower or bath while your skin is still wet. Make sure you don’t take baths or showers that are too hot or too long. That can dry out your skin.

Treat symptoms. Your doctor may suggest some medication for your symptoms. These might include steroid creams or ointments for mild flares or steroid pills for more severe cases.

Other treatments may include:

  • Antihistamines to control itching, especially at night
  • Antibiotics if you have an infection
  • Drugs to suppress your immune system such as dupilumab (Dupixent), which is given as an injection every two weeks, and crisaborole (Eucrisa), a non-steroidal ointment that is used topically twice a day.
  • Light therapy
  • Wet dressings
  • Other skin creams

What’s to know about eczema?

Share on PinterestRegularly moisturizing the skin can help treat eczema.

There is no cure for eczema. Treatment for the condition aims to heal the affected skin and prevent flare-ups of symptoms. Doctors will suggest a plan of treatment based on an individual’s age, symptoms, and current state of health.

For some people, eczema goes away over time. For others, it remains a lifelong condition.

Home care

There are numerous things that people with eczema can do to support skin health and alleviate symptoms, such as:

  • taking lukewarm baths
  • applying moisturizer within 3 minutes of bathing to “lock in” moisture
  • moisturizing every day
  • wearing cotton and soft fabrics, and avoiding rough, scratchy fibers and tight-fitting clothing
  • using a mild soap or a non-soap cleanser when washing
  • air drying or gently patting skin dry with a towel, rather than rubbing the skin dry after bathing
  • where possible, avoiding rapid changes of temperature and activities that make you sweat
  • learning and avoiding individual eczema triggers
  • using a humidifier in dry or cold weather
  • keeping fingernails short to prevent scratching from breaking the skin

Medications

There are several medications that doctors can prescribe to treat the symptoms of eczema, including:

  • Topical corticosteroid creams and ointments: These are a type of anti-inflammatory medication and should relieve the main symptoms of eczema, such as skin inflammation and itchiness. They are applied directly to the skin. If you want to buy topical corticosteroid creams and ointments, then there is an excellent selection online with thousands of customer reviews.
  • Systemic corticosteroids: If topical treatments are not effective, systemic corticosteroids can be prescribed. These are either injected or taken by mouth, and they are only used for short periods of time.
  • Antibiotics: These are prescribed if eczema occurs alongside a bacterial skin infection.
  • Antiviral and antifungal medications: These can treat fungal and viral infections that occur.
  • Antihistamines: These reduce the risk of nighttime scratching as they can cause drowsiness.
  • Topical calcineurin inhibitors: This is a type of drug that suppresses the activities of the immune system. It decreases inflammation and helps prevent flare-ups.
  • Barrier repair moisturizers: These reduce water loss and work to repair the skin.
  • Phototherapy: This involves exposure to ultraviolet A or B waves, alone or combined. The skin will be monitored carefully. This method is normally used to treat moderate dermatitis.

Even though the condition itself is not yet curable, there should be a particular treatment plan to suit each person with different symptoms. Even after an area of skin has healed, it is important to keep looking after it, as it may easily become irritated again.

Overview


Atopic eczema

When to seek medical advice

See a GP if you have symptoms of atopic eczema. They’ll usually be able to diagnose atopic eczema by looking at your skin and asking questions, such as:

  • whether the rash is itchy and where it appears
  • when the symptoms first began
  • whether it comes and goes over time
  • whether there’s a history of atopic eczema in your family
  • whether you have any other conditions, such as allergies or asthma
  • whether something in your diet or lifestyle may be contributing to your symptoms

Typically, to be diagnosed with atopic eczema you should have had an itchy skin condition in the last 12 months and 3 or more of the following:

  • visibly irritated red skin in the creases of your skin – such as the insides of your elbows or behind your knees (or on the cheeks, outsides of elbows, or fronts of the knees in children aged 18 months or under) at the time of examination by a health professional
  • a history of skin irritation occurring in the same areas mentioned above
  • generally dry skin in the last 12 months
  • a history of asthma or hay fever – children under 4 must have an immediate relative, such as a parent, brother or sister, who has 1 of these conditions
  • the condition started before the age of 2 (this does not apply to children under the age of 4)

How is eczema treated?

While there is no cure for eczema, there are many treatments to help manage the symptoms. Since dry skin leads to itchiness and inflammation, the goal of treatment is to find the best cream or ointment that will keep your skin moisturized (not dry) and lessen inflammation. Although eczema can be uncomfortable, there are things you can do to help your skin feel better.

Types of treatment include:

  • Moisturizing lotions and creams to keep skin moist
  • Antihistamine medicine to lessen itchiness
  • Prescription creams that contain steroid medicine to lessen inflammation
  • Wet compresses to soothe and hydrate skin
  • UV (ultraviolet) light therapy (also known as phototherapy)

Although eczema can be uncomfortable, there are things you can do to help your skin feel better.

Will my eczema ever go away?

Most young children who have eczema get better by the time they go to school. Some people may actually outgrow their symptoms during the adult years, but others may have it for the rest of their lives. There’s no way to tell if your eczema will go away completely, but it’s very possible that your symptoms may lessen as you get older. You may have occasional “flare-ups” (times when your skin is particularly sensitive and reacts to things in the environment).

Is there anything else I can do to lessen the chance of flare-ups?

Yes. Besides following the treatment plan that your health care provider or dermatologist gives you, you can avoid “triggers” or irritants that make your symptoms worse.

Things that may cause a flare-up: What you can do:
Too much bathing, showering, or swimming Limit your time in the water. Pat your skin dry and apply moisturizing lotion.
Sweating too much Wear clothing made from natural and breathable fabrics such as 100% cotton and avoid getting overheated.
Sudden temperature changes, humidity Avoid being outside during extreme weather conditions.
Harsh soaps, cosmetics, perfume Use mild soap and hypoallergenic makeup and avoid perfume scented products.
Wool or man-made fabrics (polyester) Avoid wearing clothing that irritates your skin. Stick with fabrics such as cotton.
Cleaning products Use mild chemical-free cleaning products. Wear gloves when using strong cleaning products.

If your symptoms don’t get better with treatment and the above suggestions, your health care provider might do allergy testing to see if something else is causing your eczema. Some people with eczema have allergies to things such as dust, pollen and pets. Additional Resources

Eczema may be very common—a recent survey found that more than 10% of adults could be afflicted—but there’s still a lot of misinformation about it. Here’s the straight scoop about this skin condition and what you need to know to keep it under control. (The Power Nutrient Solution is the first-ever plan that tackles the root cause of virtually every major ailment and health condition; get your copy today!)

Myth: All eczema is the same.
Fact: Eczema is an umbrella term for skin that’s red, irritated, and itchy. “Saying eczema is like saying ice cream,” says Mona Gohara, MD, associate clinical professor of dermatology at Yale School of Medicine. She explains that there are dozens of kinds of eczema, and while they all look similar, they’re not quite the same.

Atopic dermatitis, which is chronic and inherited, is the most common kind in kids. About 90% of cases occur before age 5, and symptoms tend to ease up as you get older. Grown-ups are more apt to develop contact dermatitis, which is inflammation that occurs when skin comes in contact with irritating substances such as soap, detergent, fabric softener, or other chemicals. The common denominator between these (and all forms of eczema) is that the skin’s protective barrier layer gets damaged. When that happens, moisture quickly evaporates and skin becomes easily reactive, leaving it rashy and itchy. (Here are 6 ways to prevent eczema.)

Myth: It’s contagious.

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Fact: “People think any skin condition is contagious, especially if it occurs all over,” says Gohara. “But you can’t catch eczema from another person and you can’t give it to someone by touching him or her.” That said, if someone’s skin becomes infected with bacteria like MRSA or staph or a virus like herpes, the infection could be contagious. And people with eczema are more prone to infections because defects in the skin barrier could allow germs in. If you have eczema and notice any changes—think increased redness, crusting, or oozing—tell your doctor.

Myth: It’s caused by stress.
Fact: “Stress doesn’t cause eczema, but it can exacerbate it,” says Gohara. Stress increases the hormone cortisol, which damages skin’s ability to hold on to water, increasing dryness and inflammation—two things eczema sufferers already have in spades. To help tame tension, do your best to get enough quality sleep (too few z’s causes the body to release cortisol) and exercise regularly.

MORE: 5 Best Vitamins For Beautiful Skin

Myth: If you have it, your skin will always look awful.

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Fact: Some types are easier to treat than others—atopic dermatitis is a tough one because it’s genetic—but many people with eczema are able to keep their condition in “remission,” says Gohara. The key is early treatment. If you have, say, hand eczema (which affects up to 10% of the population), you need to tackle it with the right meds right away. If you wait too long the skin will thicken and harden in response to constant rubbing and scratching, making it difficult for medication to penetrate deeply enough. (Take a look at this promising research on finding a cure for eczema.)

Myth: Treatment is all about the meds.
Fact: Topical medications can help heal skin during flares up, but lifestyle modifications are crucial, too. “Treatment of eczema needs to be an everyday thing,” says Gohara. Some tips: Bathe or shower in lukewarm water with a gentle cleanser, gently pat skin dry (never rub), moisturize regularly (the thicker the moisturizer the better), use a humidifier in dry or cold weather, and wear cotton or soft fabrics (rough, scratchy fibers and tight clothing can irritate skin).

Avoiding your triggers is also important. Some common ones include allergens like dust mites, pets, pollens, and molds; irritants like soaps and detergents, shampoo, dishwashing liquids, bubble bath, and contact with juices from fresh fruits, meats, and vegetables; hot weather, high and low humidity, and rapid changes of temperature and activities that make you sweat.

Myth: Eczema is only a skin problem.
Fact: Eczema can wreak havoc on the lives of people who have it, causing health problems that are more than skin deep, according to a recent Northwestern Medicine study of 62,000 adults. Researchers found that adults with this skin disease are more likely to smoke, use alcohol, and shun exercise compared to those without it. Eczema patients also more apt to be morbidly obese, develop heart disease and diabetes, and suffer from insomnia.

“Eczema takes a huge emotional toll on its sufferers,” which might lead to poor lifestyle habits, says lead study author Jonathan Silverberg, MD. “Because eczema often starts in early childhood, people are affected all through their developmental years and adolescence. It hurts their self-esteem and identity.” If your health is suffering, don’t be afraid to ask for help; your doctor should be able to refer you to nutritionists, smoking cessation programs, and more.

Myth: Ditch gluten and your eczema will clear up.
Fact: Unless you have celiac disease or a documented gluten sensitivity, there’s no reason for your skin disease to be exacerbated by gluten, says Gohara. Even if you have celiac and must avoid gluten for other health reasons, don’t assume your skin will get better once you make the switch: Research on patients with celiac and atopic dermatitis found that going gluten-free for an entire year did not lead to any improvement in their skin.

Myth: You can’t go swimming.

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Fact: While some people find that contact with chlorine leads to a flare-up, others say that it actually has a positive effect on their condition. If you’re in the camp that gets irritated by chlorine, try applying a thick layer of moisturizer to act as a barrier before entering the water, then showering soon afterward and liberally reapplying the cream. You might also get in touch with the pool in advance to find out when chlorine is added to the water—the chemical evaporates, so the concentration will decline over time. Also worth noting if you’re nervous about diving in: According to the National Eczema Association, gradually increasing time spent in the pool will help skin adapt to chlorinated water. Karyn Repinski Karyn Repinski is a deputy editor at Prevention.

How Long Does Eczema Last?

We all can get painful dry cracked skin if we wash our hands too much or go outside in the cold without our mittens. For people with eczema, however, inflamed skin is an unpleasant way of life. As for eczema duration, the good news for infants and young children who have this skin condition is that remission is a possibility as they grow older.

Eczema is an inflammation of the skin that causes it to become red, scaly, and itchy. Dryness can be another symptom, though it is not always present. Eczema can appear anywhere on the body, though it’s most frequently is found in the crook of the elbows and on the back of the knees. The hands and feet are other relatively common locations.

The term eczema most often refers to atopic dermatitis, the most common kind of eczema. Atopic dermatitis affects 10 to 20 percent of children and 1 to 3 percent of grown-ups.

Some other types include allergic contact eczema (when the skin touches something foreign like poison oak), contact eczema (from exposure to something that causes an allergy, such as chemicals and cleaners), and dyshidrotic eczema (when the palms and soles of the feet develop blisters).

RELATED: When Hands and Feet Are Affected by Eczema

What Causes Eczema?

Experts are unsure of what causes eczema and it’s an area of ongoing research with multiple theories. However, they do believe that it’s a complex interaction between a person’s genetics and the environment.

“Mutations in the filaggrin gene are considered to be a strong factor in the development of eczema because this protein is necessary to normal skin development and the barrier function of the skin,” says Ava Shamban, MD, assistant clinical professor of dermatology at the Geffen-UCLA School of Medicine in Santa Monica, Calif. “Barrier dysfunction by the skin allows penetration of potential allergens, which can trigger the rash.” Interestingly, it’s recently been discovered that newborns with this gene mutation who are exposed to cats have a higher risk of developing eczema than newborns with the same mutation who do not encounter cats.

Lipids in the skin help skin perform its barrier function. In some people with eczema, however, abnormalities in the skin lipid composition keep it from holding in moisture, and this results in dry skin.

Yet another possible cause involves the digestive system. “Infants with eczema have been reported to have different intestinal bacteria,” says Dr. Shamban. “These differences were noted before the onset of eczema and may be part of the whole picture.”

Finally, the “hygiene hypothesis” is also under consideration. With such higher cleaning standards in present day Western industrial countries it’s possible that infants’ and children’s lack of exposure to bacteria might change the development of their immune systems and create an abnormal reaction to common environmental allergens, according to Shamban. Researchers found that children in Germany who entered day care at a later age had a higher incidence of atopic dermatitis, for example.

RELATED: 10 Common Skin Rashes

Is There Such a Thing as Eczema Remission?

Generally, eczema is considered to be a chronic condition, though eczema remission is certainly possible. “If a cause can be found, it can be cured by removing the cause,” says Pamela Jakubowicz, MD, assistant clinical professor of medicine at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx, N.Y. For example, if a particular chemical or soap is causing an allergic reaction, the cessation of contact can solve the eczema problem.

As for others with eczema or atopic dermatitis from less clear causes, a variety of outcomes is possible. Studies show that about 60 percent of those with eczema improve by the age of 6, though some experience a progression from atopic dermatitis to allergic rhinitis to asthma as they age. Also, even those who experience eczema remission often still have a sensitivity to irritants including hair products and too much water exposure because of their abnormal skin barrier function.

So why is there improvement in the duration of eczema for many patients? “Experts have no idea truthfully — it’s all speculation,” says Shamban. “Several thoughts are because the gut barrier improves as a child ages — there is less entry of potentially sensitizing foods — or the gut bacteria normalize, or the immune system ‘grows up’ and is more discerning about what is an enemy to the skin.”

Ultimately for anyone struggling with eczema a trip to the dermatologist is critical. If symptoms are bad it is important to calm inflammation and stop the itch-scratch cycle. Medications can help, as can moisturizing the skin and avoiding soaps and detergents with fragrances.

COMPLICATIONS

Some complications of eczema include skin infections, eczema herpticum, neurodermatitis, and eye complications.

SKIN INFECTIONS

Scratching that is associated with eczema can break the skin causing open sores which can then become infected. This can cause mild or more serious infections. See a physician if there is swelling, pain, crusting, or oozing of the eczema.

ECZEMA HERPETICUM

Skin that becomes inflected with the herpes simplex virus (the virus that causes cold sores) is called eczema herpeticum. The symptoms may include painful pus or fluid filled blisters or sores, which may be accompanied by fever, tiredness, and swollen glands. Prompt treatment is very important, as the infection can spread to the eyes or internal organs, causing serious problems.

Caution should be taken around anyone with a cold sore; kissing and skin-to-skin contact should be avoided. Take extra caution with infants and children, especially those with eczema and/or open areas on their skin. Sometimes, with infants and small children, contact with the herpes simplex virus can be fatal. See a doctor immediately if there are concerns.

NEURODERMATITIS

Long term itching and scratching of the skin can lead to an increased sensation of itch, which could possibly lead to neurodermatitis (also known as lichen simplex chronicus). These areas of the skin that are frequently scratched become thick and leathery in appearance, and the patches can be red and darker than the rest of the skin. Persistent scratching can lead to permanent changes in skin colour. See a physician if experiencing intense itch and/or there are noticeable changes in the skin.

EYE COMPLICATIONS

In rare cases, severe atopic dermatitis can lead to eye complications, which could potentially cause permanent eye damage. See a physician if experiencing eye watering, inflammation around the eye, and eye discharge.

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