Eczema FAQs

What is eczema?

Eczema is a common skin condition, particularly common in infants and young children, that affects up to 10 percent of the population at some point. Individuals with eczema develop a red, itchy rash which may progress into scaly and sometimes blistered patches.

What causes eczema?

Eczema is the result of an allergic reaction, or an immune system malfunction. The most common form of eczema is atopic dermatitis, meaning that it occurs most often in people who have allergies, such as to hay fever and asthma, and in people who have family members with similar problems.

Is eczema contagious?

Eczema is not contagious, even with direct skin-to-skin contact.

Can eczema be cured?

Eczema usually occurs as periodic flareups that are a reaction to something in the environment. For many infants with the condition, it disappears after the age of 2. For adults with eczema, it can be a chronic condition with recurrent flareups, albeit ones that can be kept under control.

What does eczema look and feel like?

Symptoms vary from person to person but often include dry, red, itchy patches on the skin that, when scratched, tend to break out in rashes. Sometimes rashes form blisters that ooze. At other times the skin patches may appear dry and flaky. A common result of excessive scratching is lichenification, a leathery, often darkened, patch of skin.

Where on the body does eczema usually appear?

Common locations for eczema patches are the face, the insides of the arms and the backs of the knees. On infants, such patches often appear on the scalp. Eczema can, however, appear just about anywhere on the skin.

What triggers the inflammation and itching of eczema?

Objects and conditions that trigger itchy eczema outbreaks vary from person to person. They can include skin irritants such as rough or coarse fabrics, excessive heat or cold, soaps, detergents, perfumes, detergents and animal dander. Outbreaks of eczema may also be precipitated by upper respiratory infections, certain food substances and stress.

How can flareups of eczema be prevented?

Since eczema outbreaks can be set off by exposure to certain substances and conditions, avoidance of these triggers is the simplest way to minimize flareups. Preventative measures may include the following:

  • Using moisturizing lotions without fragrance
  • Avoiding sudden changes in temperature
  • Reducing stress
  • Avoiding rough fabrics (such as wool or burlap)
  • Avoiding harsh soaps and detergents
  • Limiting contact with animal dander
  • Avoiding trigger foods

How can eczema be treated?

There are several effective treatments for eczema. The first treatment is to refrain from scratching the affected area. Scratching will only worsen the condition, and may allow bacteria to enter the broken skin and cause an infection. Moisturizing lotions or creams, cold compresses and nonprescription anti-inflammatory corticosteroid creams and ointments are often helpful. Beyond this, physicians may prescribe corticosteroid medication, antibiotics to combat infection, or sedative antihistamines.

In severe cases, phototherapy and topical immunomodulators, such as cyclosporine, may be recommended. The latter, however, are to be used with caution, and never on children younger than 2, because they are linked to an elevated risk of cancer.

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Virginia Cleaver is a clinical pharmacist with experience working in retail, mail-order pharmacy, institutional and managed care environments. She is a

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