Eczema inside the elbow develops as an itchy, dry, and inflamed rash. It is a form of flexural eczema that develops in the creases of moving joints. Scientists are still learning what causes it.

Eczema is an umbrella term for several skin conditions that cause itchy, irritated, and discolored skin. The most common of these is atopic dermatitis.

This article reviews the types of eczema found on the elbows, symptoms, possible complications, causes, treatments, management, prevention, and when to see a doctor.

According to the National Eczema Association, seven types of eczema affect over 31 million people in the United States. However, not every type is likely to affect the elbows.

The types of eczema most likely to affect the inside of the elbows include:

  • Atopic dermatitis: This is the most common form. It causes dryness, inflammation, and itchy skin on the insides of the elbows and other areas of the body.
  • Contact dermatitis: Doctors also call this type allergic contact dermatitis. It may develop inside the elbow or elsewhere on the body when a person comes into contact with an environmental trigger or allergen.
  • Dyshidrotic eczema: This form of eczema causes dry skin, rashes, and tiny blisters.
  • Neurodermatitis: This form affects small patches of skin on the insides of elbows and other body parts, making them itchy and scaly.

Eczema inside the elbows and on other moving joints around the body is also called flexural eczema. This term describes where the eczema develops rather than being a distinct condition.

Learn more about the seven different types of eczema.

Eczema causes the skin to become itchy, inflamed, and uncomfortable. In people with lighter skin, eczema can present as red itchy patches. The affected area may appear gray, brown, or purple in people with darker skin.

Eczema often starts with itchiness. As a person scratches at it, a rash may form. The symptoms can range from mild to severe. A person may also notice that symptoms come and go, although about 85% of people with atopic dermatitis experience itchy skin daily.

Other common symptoms of eczema on the inside of the elbows may include:

  • sore or painful skin
  • thickened skin
  • cracking of the skin
  • oozing or weeping

Learn more about eczema on darker skin.

When left untreated, eczema inside the elbow can lead to other health issues. These can include:

  • trouble sleeping due to itchy or uncomfortable skin on the arms
  • an increased risk of infection due to skin cracks
  • higher likelihood of developing:

Learn more about untreated eczema.

Scientists do not fully understand why eczema develops in some people but not others. They think it may be due to a combination of genetics and environmental factors that cause the immune system to become overactive or not work as it should.

Usually, the immune system protects the body from harmful things, such as viruses. But if the immune system activates incorrectly, it can cause ongoing symptoms. In eczema, this manifests as skin inflammation, which causes itchiness and other symptoms.

People with atopic dermatitis also have less of a specific protein in the skin known as filaggrin. Filaggrin helps keep the skin barrier strong. Reduced filaggrin levels may compromise the skin barrier, letting moisture out and, potentially, letting germs in.

People with hay fever or asthma or who have family members with one or both conditions also have a higher risk of developing eczema.

Learn more about the causes and triggers of eczema.

Treatment depends on the type of eczema a person has. For example, if a person has contact dermatitis, identifying and avoiding the trigger may completely resolve the problem.

For atopic dermatitis, treatment may focus more on managing and reducing flare-ups. The treatment plan may help to:

  • reduce symptoms
  • help the skin heal as much as possible
  • keep the skin hydrated and free of infection
  • decrease the risk of complications

Eczema treatment plans

A dermatologist may recommend:

  • skin care, which may include warm baths and keeping the skin around the elbow moisturized
  • applying topical medications and creams, such as a corticosteroid or coal tar, directly to the inside of the elbow
  • medications to reduce inflammation or itchiness, such as antihistamines or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
  • phototherapy
  • in severe cases, injectable or systemic drugs that suppress the immune system, such as:

Learn more about medications for eczema.

Self-care strategies a person can do at home play a significant role in eczema management. A doctor may recommend:

  • avoiding harsh chemicals, hot water, and other things that dry or irritate the skin
  • wearing loose-fitting, soft clothing around the affected area
  • washing by taking baths in lukewarm water for 5 to 20 minutes or taking short showers
  • applying a thick layer of fragrance-free, mild moisturizer to the skin daily or after it gets wet
  • using fragrance-free and eczema-friendly personal care products

Learn more about treating and managing eczema at home.

Preventing eczema is not always possible. However, many of the above tips, along with medical treatment, can reduce skin irritation. This may help prevent flare-ups.

Resisting the urge to scratch may also help break the itchiness cycle and prevent rash formation. Some tips that may help with this include:

  • keeping itchy skin covered
  • keeping the nails trimmed short
  • wearing cotton gloves at night
  • gently applying cool compresses to ease itchiness and prevent scratching

Another strategy some people use is avoiding triggers. By monitoring their symptoms or keeping a diary, some people can identify specific things that cause flare-ups, which allows them to avoid those triggers.

Learn more about what can trigger eczema flare-ups.

Anyone who develops an itchy rash that does not disappear within a few days should consider talking with a doctor.

Caregivers of infants showing signs of eczema should also speak with a doctor, as many things can cause rashes in babies. Signs of itchiness in young children can include:

  • rubbing against bedding or carpet
  • fussiness or irritability
  • difficulty sleeping

When consulting a doctor, whether for themselves, a child, or someone they care for, an individual might need to discuss the following:

  • medical history
  • family medical histories, such as a relative having asthma or hay fever
  • where and how the rash developed
  • symptoms associated with it

Learn more about eczema progression and when to seek medical help.

Eczema often appears around the creases in the body, including the elbows. Though there are several forms of eczema, the most common is atopic dermatitis, which causes itchy, inflamed rashes to appear on the skin.

Both children and adults can develop eczema inside their elbows or on other body areas. Treatment typically involves managing symptoms and preventing flares. Examples include topical medications, moisturizers, avoiding triggers, or systemic medications.

A person should work with a dermatologist to help develop a treatment plan that will work for them.

Eczema resources

Visit our dedicated hub for more research-backed information and in-depth resources on eczema.

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