Creams and topical ointments can help soothe the dry, itchy skin due to atopic dermatitis. Other treatments include over-the-counter and prescription medications, such as corticosteroids and antihistamines.

Atopic dermatitis is a type of eczema that affects around 30% of people in the United States, most of whom are children and adolescents.

A person with eczema will typically develop patches of dry, itchy skin that may crack, bleed, or become infected.

This article discusses treatments and home remedies for atopic dermatitis, the latest treatment research, tips for managing the condition, and more.

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The following sections describe some common treatments for atopic dermatitis.

Over-the-counter (OTC) treatments

A person can buy certain types of eczema treatments without a prescription. These usually come in milder doses than the prescription version of them.

OTC treatment options include:

  • moisturizing creams, lotions, or ointments
  • corticosteroid creams, such as hydrocortisone, to relieve itching and inflammation
  • corticosteroid tablets, which are suitable for short-term use only, relieve itching and inflammation
  • the oral antihistamine diphenhydramine (Benadryl), which may help relieve itching in some cases
  • probiotics, which may help prevent an allergic response

Prescription medications

A doctor may prescribe medicated creams or oral medication to hydrate the skin, reduce itching, and relieve inflammation.

These include stronger antihistamines and corticosteroid creams or tablets. A doctor may also prescribe:

  • topical calcineurin inhibitors such as tacrolimus (Astagraf XL, Envarsus XR, Prograf, and Protopic)
  • dupilumab (Dupixent), which is an injectable immunomodulatory medication approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat atopic dermatitis
  • phosphodiesterase inhibitors, such as crisaborole (Eucrisa)
  • oral medications, such as cyclosporine and interferon
  • injectable medications, such as tralokinumab-ldrm (Adbry)
  • topical janus kinase (JAK) inhibitors, such as ruxolitinib (Opzelura)
  • oral JAK inhibitors, such as upadacitinib (Rinvoq) and abrocitinib (Cibinqo)


People with severe eczema may benefit from UV light therapy. Phototherapy has different side effects than injectable or oral medications and can improve symptoms for many skin conditions, including eczema.

During phototherapy, a doctor or dermatologist will shine a UVB light on the whole body or the affected areas. This light helps reduce itchiness and inflammation and encourages the body to create vitamin D. It may also help the skin fight bacteria to prevent infection.

Side effects can include:

  • sunburn
  • skin sensitivity
  • skin cancer

Home remedies can help relieve the symptoms of atopic dermatitis, though people should talk with their doctor to determine the best treatment for their symptoms.

Home remedies include:

  • Natural moisturizers: Some natural products can help lock in moisture and relieve itchiness. These include cold-pressed or virgin coconut oil, sunflower oil, and cardiospermum extract. Topical vitamin B12 may also help.
  • Bathing: Bathing helps keep the skin hydrated. It is important to use a moisturizer on affected areas of skin within 3 minutes of getting out of the bath to stop the skin from drying out. Types of baths include:
  • Wet wrap therapy (WWT): WWT involves wrapping wet strips of fabric or gauze around the eczema-affected areas after bathing and moisturizing. Doing this may help keep the skin hydrated and increase the action of medicated creams and moisturizers. A person should not use wet wraps over prescribed corticosteroid creams unless a doctor advises this.

People can try these methods to help reduce their eczema symptoms.

A person may want to avoid:

  • scratching the affected areas, as scratching makes inflammation worse
  • wearing wool or other fabrics that can scrape the skin
  • using strong soaps, detergents, or products that contain scents, dyes, or fragrances
  • scrubbing dry skin for too long

Other measures a person can take include:

  • minimizing contact with water when washing objects, such as dishes, by hand
  • trying not to scratch, for example, by keeping the hands busy with tasks or fidget toys
  • keeping the fingernails short and clean in case scratching scrapes the skin too much or introduces bacteria that can cause an infection
  • washing all new clothes with a fragrance-free detergent suitable for sensitive skin
  • wearing loose clothing made of cotton
  • protecting the skin from the sun by covering up or using sunscreen of at least SPF 30
  • keeping a comfortable temperature
  • limiting exposure to allergens, such as dust mites, pollen, mold, and certain foods

In addition, taking care of one’s mental health can help limit flare-ups. Research from 2020 suggests that stress can be a trigger for eczema. Living with the condition may also affect a person’s mental health.

Below are answers to some frequently asked questions about eczema or atopic dermatitis.

When should I see a doctor for atopic dermatitis?

A person may need to contact a doctor if they experience complications from atopic dermatitis, such as bacterial, viral, and fungal skin infections. These are common complications of eczema, as people who scratch can introduce pathogens into the skin. In addition, the skin of people with eczema lacks the proteins that fight infections.

Signs of infection include:

  • eczema suddenly becoming worse
  • areas of the skin weeping
  • a raised temperature
  • flu-like symptoms

Can I treat infected eczema at home?

The treatment for skin infections is antibacterial, antifungal, or antiviral medications. In rare instances of viral infection, a person may need to go to the hospital. Therefore, a person should not try to treat infected eczema at home.

How do I treat eczema on my hands?

Treating hand eczema is similar to treating eczema elsewhere on the body. It includes minimizing exposure to triggering irritants, applying moisturizer, and taking prescribed medications as necessary. Wearing gloves when performing tasks that can cause flare-ups may also help.

There is currently no cure for atopic dermatitis, but people can manage their symptoms with a combination of treatments. These include topical creams, oral medication, wet wraps, phototherapy, and special baths. These treatments may reduce itchiness and dry skin and lower the risk of skin infections.