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Eczema (Atopic Dermatitis) Overview

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This information was reviewed and approved by Jessica Hui Beckman, MD (4/1/2024).

What is Eczema?

Eczema (Atopic dermatitis, or AD for short) is a common chronic skin disease. It is also called atopic eczema. Atopic is a term used to describe allergic conditions such as asthma and hay fever. Both dermatitis and eczema mean inflammation of the skin.

People with eczema tend to have dry, itchy and easily irritated skin. They may have times when their skin is clear and other times when they have a rash.

Atopic dermatitis usually begins and ends during childhood, but some people continue to have the disease into adulthood. If you ever had atopic dermatitis, you may have trouble with one or more of these:

  • Dry, sensitive skin

  • Hand dermatitis

  • Skin infections

Eczema can have a significant impact on the quality of life of individuals and their families. The itching can interfere with daily activities and make it hard to sleep. Scratching the rash can irritate the skin, making it itch even more, which, in turn, increases the tendency to scratch. This itch-scratch cycle can leave the skin open to infections.


Do You Have Eczema?

If you answer yes to any of these questions, talk with your health care provider about eczema (atopic dermatitis.) You will be asked questions about your health and your skin. Be sure to tell your health care provider if you or anyone in your family has had a similar rash, asthma or allergies.  

  • Do you have dry skin with an itchy, red or scaly rash?

  • Do you itch or have a rash in the creases of your wrists, elbows or knees?

  • Do you notice thick skin where there has been a past rash?


Eczema Treatment

Treatment for eczema (atopic dermatitis) can include soak and seal skin care, avoiding things that make the itch and rash worse and using an eczema action plan to manage symptoms. The soak and seal technique includes:

  • Soaking in the bathtub for 10-15 minutes

  • Gently patting the skin dry

  • Applying moisturizers (creams or ointments) right away

  • Applying medicine to areas if itch, rash or infection are present


Lifestyle Changes

Many things can make the itch and rash of eczema worse, which are different for each person, including:

  • Irritants

  • Allergies

  • Food allergies

  • Temperature and humidity

  • Emotions and stress

An action plan will help control your eczema. It will help you know what to do if the itch and rash are getting worse.

If you think you have eczema, talk with your health care provider. Be sure to tell them about anyone in your family that has a similar rash, asthma or allergies. You may choose to see a doctor who specializes in eczema. These doctors are called allergists or dermatologists.


National Jewish Health experts provided information on this topic for use on the U.S. News & World Report (Opens in a new window) website.

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