What to Know About Eczema


Eczema, or atopic dermatitis, is a skin disease. It’s often seen in children but can also be seen in adults, though it’s rather rare after childhood. The symptoms are a rash of inflamed, scaly and tender skin, and a tormenting itch. If the condition isn’t treated, the skin can become leathery and knotty and turn darker or lighter. It’s not unusual for the skin in the affected area to have a perpetual itch and be very dry.

Eczema is one of those diseases that’s more common now than it was years ago, and doctors aren’t sure why this is. Some of the risk factors for a child getting eczema are:

• Parents or siblings who already have eczema, hay fever or asthma
• Living in a cold, first-world country with high levels of air pollution
• Being a girl
• Having a mother who’s older
• Being a member of a high social class

The good news about eczema is that it’s not contagious and it’s not caused by foods, though a child who’s allergic to a certain food can suffer a worse case of eczema. If the patient gets eczema when he or she is a baby, it tends to go away over time or at least become a much milder condition. Genetic factors and a patient’s immune system might also contribute to the risk of catching the disease. But doctors really don’t know what causes eczema.

Eczema is usually treated by a dermatologist. To diagnose eczema, he or she has to examine the skin and ask questions of the patient or the patient’s parents.

Though eczema can’t be cured, it can be controlled. The dermatologist’s goal is to stop it from getting worse, relieving the incessant itch and preventing the thickening of the skin. Keeping a child from clawing at the eczema will also prevent infections and reduce some of the stress the child is feeling. The dermatologist can do this by prescribing medicines and suggesting certain forms of skin care and modifications to the patient’s lifestyle.

One way to soothe eczema is to give the child a quick bath in warm water. The child shouldn’t be in the bathtub longer than 10 minutes, or it might paradoxically cause the skin to dry out. The child shouldn’t be bathed with harsh soap and should be patted nearly dry after the bath. Topical medication and moisturizer can then be applied to the skin.


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