Eczema appears as a red, itchy rash, sometimes with a thickening, leatherydiscoloration of the skin. From puberty on, it usually appears as dry, itchy patches of skin in the folds of the elbows and knees. The face, neck, and upper trunk are common areas. The skin becomes dry and leathery after repeated scratching.

Eczema causes the skin to itch intensely, and many of the problems seen by doctors are a result of “itch-scratch-itch” syndrome.  Areas that itch tend to be scratched by the patient, and scratching makes the eczema worse.

head-eczemaA person with eczema often has a history of allergic manifestations such as asthma or hay fever, or a family history of asthma, hay fever, or atopic dermatitis though this isn’t always the case. The term “atopic” is derived from the Greek word atopos, which means “away from the place.” It describes a family of sensitivities to ordinary substances to which most people have no reaction. Hence, the sensitivity is “out of place”.

Though much of atopic dermatitis is genetic and caused by the “atopic” or reactive immune system, environmental factors are also play a role. Eczema may be set off by extreme temperatures, stress, sweating, medication, clothing (especially wool or silk), grease, oils, soap and detergents, and environmental allergens. Dryness is perhaps the most important trigger. Drying soaps should be avoided, and the skin should be moisturized frequently.

Patients with eczema are also very susceptible to severe infections from certain viruses, for example, the herpes simplex virus that produces fever blisters and sores. Patients with eczema have hyperirritable skin. Therefore, anything that dries or irritates the skin will be a problem, and should definitely be avoided. The aims of home therapy are to decrease trigger factors, reduce itching, suppress inflammation, lubricate the skin, and alleviate anxiety.

Dermatologists generally recommend the following steps:

  • Avoid rough, scratchy, tight clothing and woolens
  • Avoid frequent use of soaps, hot water, and other cleansing procedures that tend to remove natural oil from the skin. Use a moisturizing soap such as Dove, Tone, Lever 2000, Eucerin, Aveeno, Basis, Alpha Keri, or Purpose, and recommended cleansers include Cetaphil and Aquanil.
  • Bathe no more than once daily
  • Washcloths and brushes should not be used while bathing
  • After bathing, the skin should be patted dry (not rubbed) and then immediately (before it dries completely) covered with a thin film of moisturizer cream or ointment (not lotion) e.g. Aquaphor, Eucerin, Vaseline).

… for more information on eczema and dermatitis, check out our home page: or eczema’s and dermatitis dedicated categories.