Eczema inside the elbow often appears as an itchy, uncomfortable rash. Doctors refer to it as flexural eczema since it occurs inside the elbow curve or other joints.

Eczema is a medical term for skin conditions that cause itchy, irritated, and discolored skin. The most common form that affects the elbows 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.

Flexural eczema is most common in late childhood or adulthood. There are 7 types of eczema affecting over 31 million Americans. 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, which develops inside the elbow or elsewhere when a person comes into contact with an environmental trigger or allergen.
  • Dyshidrotic eczema: Dyshidrotic eczema causes a burning sensation and dry skin in rashes and blisters.
  • Neurodermatitis: This form affects small patches of skin on the insides of elbows and other body parts, making them itchy and scaly.

The three other types that will most likely not appear on the elbows include the following:

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

Learn more about eczema on darker skin.

Eczema often starts as itchy skin. As a person scratches at it, a rash will often form.

The condition appears around the joints and other areas where skin folds or creases. A person may also notice that symptoms come and go.

Eczema symptoms can range in severity from mild to severe. The symptoms a person experiences can vary, but the most common symptom is itchy skin. In fact, about 85% of people with atopic dermatitis experience itchy skin daily.

Other common symptoms of eczema on the inside of the elbows can include the following:

  • sore or painful skin
  • changes in the color of skin — redness in lighter skin tones or purple, brown, or gray discoloration in darker skin tones
  • thickened skin
  • oozing or weeping
  • swollen or inflamed 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
  • increased risk of infection due to open skin inside the elbow
  • higher likelihood of developing:

The exact cause of eczema remains unknown. Experts know it occurs due to a combination of genetics and environmental factors, such as exposure to a chemical.

They believe that exposure to an irritant causes the immune system to overreact, creating inflammation. Inflammation is responsible for a majority of a person’s symptoms.

When eczema begins between the age of 2 and puberty, children have an increased chance of developing eczema in the creases of the elbows or other joints.

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

Treatment depends on a doctor properly diagnosing eczema inside the elbows. It can appear similar to psoriasis, allergic reactions, and other skin conditions. Getting the correct diagnosis can help a person get the right treatment faster.

Treatment typically involves managing flares. More specifically, a dermatologist or other medical professional will likely recommend treatments to help with the following:

  • prevent worsening symptoms or disease progression
  • reduce flare-ups
  • ease symptoms
  • help keep the skin moist
  • decrease the risk of complications, such as thickening skin or infection

Eczema treatment plans

A dermatologist will likely develop a plan for an adult or child that includes the following:

  • 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
  • phototherapy
  • systemic medications, such as:
    • azathioprine, an oral medication
    • cyclosporine, an oral or injectable medication
    • methotrexate, an oral or injectable medication
    • mycophenolate mofetil

Both children and adults can use topical medications and immune-suppressing medications. However, parents or guardians should discuss their use with a doctor before introducing new medications to their children.

In most cases, an adult or child can manage their symptoms with at-home therapies, over-the-counter topical creams, and lifestyle changes.

Some suggestions for managing eczema that appears around the elbows include:

  • applying a thick layer of fragrance-free, mild moisturizer to the skin daily
  • using topical medicated creams according to a doctor’s recommendations
  • taking baths in lukewarm water for 5–20 minutes and applying moisturizer after, or taking short showers
  • managing triggers of flares by taking steps to both learn what they are and avoid them
  • using fragrance- and dye-free gentle skin care products
  • wearing loose-fitting clothing
  • testing new products before use by applying a small amount to a single area of skin for 7–10 days

Preventing eczema from starting is not necessarily possible. However, an adult or child can take steps to help reduce the severity and frequency of flares of eczema around the elbows or other areas of the body.

These steps include:

  • using fragrance- and dye-free detergents for laundry
  • choosing clothes with fabrics that do not irritate the skin or trigger a flare
  • following all treatment recommendations from a dermatologist or other healthcare professional
  • learning what triggers affect the person the most and avoiding them as best as possible
  • trying new products, including clothes and soaps, on a small patch of skin before regular use
  • using appropriate protection from the sun and cold temperatures

Parents of infants may want to have their baby examined if they show signs of itchiness, which can include:

  • rubbing against bedding or carpet due to excessive itching
  • the development of a rash
  • an open wound

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

When seeing a doctor, whether for themselves or for a child or person they act as a caregiver for, an individual should be prepared to discuss:

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

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 areas of the body. Treatment typically involves managing symptoms and preventing flares. Examples include topical medications, moisturizers, avoiding triggers, and systemic medications in some cases.

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