Eczema, or atopic dermatitis, causes flare-ups of dry, itchy, cracked, and sore patches of skin. These symptoms can occur in different parts of the body, depending on a person’s age and skin type.
Learning to recognize eczema flare-ups can be helpful when working with a doctor to find a treatment that brings relief from symptoms.
Read on to learn about the main symptoms of eczema, what eczema rashes look like, the symptoms of each specific type of eczema, their causes, and treatments for eczema symptoms.
According to the United Kingdom’s National Health Service (NHS), eczema symptoms can develop two or three times every month along with periods of symptom improvement.
During a period of symptoms, a person may experience:
- dry, scaly patches
- a warm feeling on the skin, due to inflammation
- scratch marks and raw skin from excessive scratching of itches
- fluid leaking from rashes or bumps
- oozing, crusting blisters
- eczema-affected patches of skin that remain lighter or darker after healing
On lighter skin tones, symptoms are more likely to include a red rash. For people with darker skin, eczema may show as small rough bumps with purple, gray, or dark brown patches, depending on an individual’s skin tone.
Flare-ups are periods in which symptoms occur or get worse. Periods of less severe or absent symptoms are what doctors call remission. Flare-ups may occur for many years. They may occur in the same place, or while one period is in remission, another may flare up.
Over time, eczema can lead to thick, scaly, cracked skin.
Different types of eczema can cause varying symptoms in several areas of the body. Seven main types of eczema exist.
Atopic dermatitis causes the above symptoms and is the most common type in the United States. It develops in around 9.6 million children and 16.5 million adults, according to the National Eczema Association. Itching is the main symptom involved with atopic dermatitis.
Contact dermatitis causes flare-ups that occur after direct contact with an irritant or allergen. However, its symptoms are similar to those of atopic dermatitis, including skin inflammation and irritation. This is a common form of eczema, developing in around
Dyshidrotic eczema causes small blisters on the palms of the hands, the soles of the feet, and the edges of the fingers and toes. It is not clear how common dyshidrotic eczema is, but it may account for hand eczema in
According to a
Seborrheic dermatitis most often causes scaly patches on the scalp, but symptoms may also develop on the face and chest. This type of dermatitis can lead to constant itching and a rash around the scalp. A 2023 review estimates that seborrheic dermatitis develops in around
Stasis dermatitis occurs due to reduced blood flow. It causes swelling and skin changes in the lower legs, and symptoms often do not spread from beyond there. This generally causes itchy skin, dryness, and redness in people who have lighter skin. In those with darker skin, it may cause gray, purple, or darker brown patches.
This type has links to a sedentary lifestyle and is more common in older adults.
Visit our dedicated hub for more research-backed information and in-depth resources on eczema.
Depending on the type of eczema, it can appear on locations across the body. The following table shows the locations of eczema symptoms by type.
- Up to 2 years of age: It commonly appears on the face, scalp, and skin that meets where joints bend.
- 2 years old to puberty: It commonly appears on the bend of the elbows and knees, neck, and ankles.
- Teen years to adulthood: It commonly appears on the hands, neck, bends of the elbow and knee, skin around the eyes, ankles, and feet.
Other types of eczema also often cause symptoms in specific places, including:
|Location of symptoms
|commonly the hands; occasionally the scalp, face, ears, legs, and feet, depending on the site of exposure to triggers
|the palms of the hands, the feet, and the edges of fingers and toes
|the legs, forearms, and the backs of the hands (often on both sides of the hands)
|anywhere, but commonly the hands, wrists, elbows, shoulders, feet, ankles, neck, and scalp
|commonly the scalp; occasionally the face and chest
|the lower legs
The underlying causes of eczema are still unclear. Its symptoms occur due to gaps in the protective barrier of the skin, known as the sebum barrier or stratum corneum. This means too much moisture leaves the skin, and everyday irritants, bacteria, and viruses can enter the skin more easily.
The symptoms of dryness, itching, inflammation, and infection can occur for this reason. Several factors also increase the risk:
- Age: Children have a higher risk of eczema than adults.
- Race: In the United States, Black children have twice the eczema risk of white children.
- Location: Living in a city may increase the risk due to air pollution.
- Genetic: Around 70% of people with atopic dermatitis have one or more blood relatives with the condition.
Specific triggers often cause flare-ups of symptoms. These might include:
- allergens, such as dust mites, pet fur or hair, latex, or pollen
- particular soaps, detergents, and household cleaners
- metals, including nickel
- irritants, including fragrances and dyes
- extreme temperatures
- dry weather
These may be different for each individual with eczema.
A doctor specializing in skin disease, or dermatologist, will diagnose eczema. They will ask about:
- family history
- which symptoms a person is having
- when symptoms began
- when symptoms appear or possible triggers
They may be able to diagnose after a simple skin exam and blood tests. Some doctors may need a skin biopsy to rule out other conditions or confirm the diagnosis.
Eczema treatment is highly individualized and
- manage skin dryness
- reduce inflammation
- control itching and scratching
- speed up healing
- reduce the risk of infection
- reduce the number of flare-ups
Medications to achieve this may include:
- moisturizing creams
- corticosteroid creams and ointments
- calcineurin inhibitors
- phosphodiesterase-4 inhibitors
Janus kinase (JAK) inhibitors and biologic medications can help reduce immune response in people with severe eczema. Diluted bleach baths twice weekly and wet wrap therapy can help care for the skin during eczema. Phototherapy can help people with severe, widespread eczema whose symptoms do not respond to medications.
Eczema causes itchiness, dry skin, redness, and inflammation. Symptoms can appear in different places depending on age and type. Symptoms may appear different for people with different skin tones.
A dermatologist can treat eczema with an individualized course of medications, skin care methods, and phototherapy where necessary.