Although eczema has no cure, treatments are available to help manage symptoms. Sometimes, treatment may consist of a combination of topical medications and pills.
Eczema is an umbrella term for conditions that cause skin inflammation.
Medical experts do not know exactly what causes eczema. However, the National Eczema Association (NEA) states that people with eczema tend to have an overactive immune system that triggers inflammation in response to certain irritants or allergens.
According to the NEA, around 31.6 million people have eczema in the United States, and around 1 in 10 people will develop the condition in their lifetime. For most people, the condition presents itself in early childhood.
This article explores the different types of pills doctors may prescribe for eczema, including their specific benefits and side effects. We also outline some other treatments for eczema.
Eczema medications are available in both topical and oral forms. Some goals of these medications include:
- maintaining and repairing the skin’s barrier function
- alleviating symptoms
- reducing inflammation
- preventing eczema flare-ups
According to a 2016 review, topical products are the first-line treatment for eczema, and these aim to repair the damaged skin barrier and reduce inflammation. Oral medications are generally second-line treatments that aim to control systemic inflammation.
Below are some pills that doctors may prescribe to treat eczema.
Some specific benefits of oral corticosteroids for eczema include:
- reducing itching, redness, and rashes
- controlling inflammation
- treating severe outbreaks
- preventing flare-ups
Some possible side effects of corticosteroids
- mood changes
- weight gain
- fluid retention
- peptic ulcers
- high blood pressure
- thinning of the skin
- elevated blood sugar
Doctors sometimes prescribe oral corticosteroids to help manage acute eczema flare-ups in the short term. These medications are not suitable for long-term treatment due to the risk of severe side effects.
Immunosuppressants are another medication that suppresses the immune system and reduces inflammation. They are not a standard treatment for eczema, though doctors sometimes prescribe them off-label for this purpose.
Immunosuppressants are available in oral or injectable forms. Examples include:
Some specifics benefits of immunosuppressants for eczema include:
- suppressing the immune system
- reducing inflammation
- reducing itch-scratch cycles
Interleukins are chemical messengers that help the body fight off harmful pathogens. In eczema and other inflammatory conditions, the overactive immune system releases an excess of interleukins, resulting in inflammation.
Biologics are a class of medications that scientists derive from living cells and biological processes. Biologics for eczema prevent interleukins from binding to their cell surface receptors. This inhibits an overactive immune system response, reducing the frequency and severity of eczema symptoms.
According to the NEA, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved two biologics for the treatment of eczema: dupilumab (Dupixent) and tralokinumab-Idrm (Adbry). Doctors may prescribe these drugs to treat severe eczema when other forms of treatment have proven ineffective.
The NEA notes that both dupilumab and tralokinumab-Idrm can offer the following benefits to people living with eczema:
- reduced itching
- clear or almost clear skin
- improved sleep
- improved quality of life
Some common side effects of biologics include:
Cytokines are small proteins that stimulate the immune system’s inflammatory response. Janus Kinase (JAK) inhibitors
The FDA has approved two JAK inhibitors for the treatment of eczema:
- abrocitinib (Cibinqo) for adults
- upadacitinib (Rinvoq) for people 12 years and older
Doctors will usually recommend JAK inhibitors when other treatments have proven ineffective.
According to a 2021 review, clinical trials demonstrate that JAK inhibitors are safe and effective as a treatment for atopic dermatitis. However, further large-scale studies are necessary to understand their long-term safety and treatment success.
Some of the most common side effects of both Cibinqo and Rinvoq include:
Below are some additional treatments for eczema.
Emollients are moisturizing treatments that people apply directly to the skin. These treatments create a protective film over the skin that helps lock in moisture.
Emollients are available in different forms, including:
- ointments for very dry skin
- creams or lotions for less dry skin
- soap substitutes
People may have to try different emollients before finding a type or combination that works for them.
The American Academy of Dermatology Association (AAD) recommends the following home remedies to help alleviate eczema symptoms:
- using mild soaps and detergents to help prevent skin irritation
- applying a moisturizer at least twice a day, which may decrease the need for eczema medications
- applying moisturizers within 3 minutes of having a bath to help lock moisture into the skin
- wearing natural, soft fabrics to reduce skin irritation
- using a humidifier in dry environments to help maintain adequate moisture levels for the skin
- learning and avoiding individual eczema triggers
Eczema is an umbrella term for chronic skin conditions that cause dry, scaly, or itchy skin patches. Although eczema has no cure, treatments can help manage the disease and its symptoms.
First-line treatments for eczema include topical products and medications. Doctors may recommend eczema pills as a second-line treatment if these are ineffective. Examples include oral corticosteroids, immunosuppressants, biologics, and JAK inhibitors.
A person considering oral medication for eczema should talk with a doctor about the potential benefits and side effects.