Eczema is a condition that some people outgrow, while others have it throughout adulthood. The most common type is known as atopic dermatitis.
More than 31 million people in the United States are affected by some form of eczema, which is more common in females than in males.
The condition typically causes the skin to become inflamed, rough, cracked, and itchy. Blisters may also occur on the skin’s surface.
Many factors may trigger atopic dermatitis, such as certain foods, smoke, soap, fragrances, and pollen.
This article discusses eczema, its causes and symptoms, and how long the condition may last. It also looks at some home care measures and treatments that may help ease the symptoms of eczema.
Eczema can develop at any time during a person’s life, although most people who get the condition will develop it before they reach 5 years of age. It is more likely to affect African American and white children more than Hispanic children, although the disease can be more severe in African American and Hispanic children.
Eczema can also occur for the first time in adulthood, with 25% of adults reporting initial symptoms.
In general, the condition changes over time, with symptoms worsening, improving, or clearing up. According to recent studies, 60% of children who develop atopic eczema will show no further signs of the condition in adolescence.
While there is no cure for eczema, identifying and avoiding irritants that trigger flare-ups may help manage it. In addition, home treatments and medications may reduce symptoms.
While doctors have not determined what precisely causes eczema, research indicates it may be a combination of genes and triggers.
For example, genes inherited from parents may cause a condition known as leaky skin barrier, which results in dry skin, according to the American Academy of Allery, Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI).
The AAAAI also note that mutations in the gene that regulates filaggrin produce moderate-to-severe eczema in up to one-third of individuals of Eastern Asian and Northern European descent. Filaggrin is a protein that helps maintain a protective barrier on the top layer of skin.
Environmental factors can also trigger eczema. These factors may include irritants or allergens, which can produce an allergic or irritant reaction in some people. Such substances may include:
- animal dander
- dust mites
- cigarette smoke
- certain foods
- hormone levels in females
The prevalence of eczema varies among all skin colors and ethnicities, according to the National Eczema Association (NEA), which cite the following statistics:
- white adults: 11%
- African American adults: 10%
- Asian adults: 13%
- Native American adults: 13%
Additionally, around 9.6 million children in the U.S. have atopic dermatitis, while the percentage of cases has steadily increased.
A person’s eczema can present in various stages, including:
- Mild: This may be the first time a person notices eczema symptoms, which may present as a rash that starts to itch.
- Moderate: This refers to when the condition is between the acute and chronic stages. Itching may reduce, but the skin can appear flaky, cracked, or red.
- Severe: In this stage, the eczema symptoms may last for several months or longer. Itching may be intense, while rashes may cover a larger area of the skin.
Allergic contact dermatitis can be chronic, although it is more often acute.
There are seven types of eczema, according to the American Academy of Dermatology Association (AAD), which are below.
Atopic dermatitis usually develops when a person is 5 years of age, affecting 10% of people in the U.S. Asian American and African American children have a higher risk of the condition. Symptoms may include itchy skin and painful rashes that interfere with sleep.
Contact dermatitis is the skin’s response to an irritant or allergen. Symptoms include itchy skin, rash, and sometimes blisters.
Because people have contact with thousands of possible irritants in their everyday lives, identifying the exact one can be challenging.
Common triggers of allergic contact dermatitis include nickel and fragrances.
Dyshidrotic eczema produces small, itchy blisters on the feet and hands, which may last 3–4 weeks. Common triggers are personal care products such as soap or shampoo.
Neurodermatitis begins with the development of one or two itchy patches that often appear on the leg, arm, groin, scalp, or back of the neck. The itchiness is so intense that it can wake a person from sleep, affecting their quality of life. This condition frequently develops during a stressful period in an individual’s life.
Stasis dermatitis is a common type of eczema that usually develops on the lower legs of people with reduced blood flow. In the U.S., the condition affects 15–20 million individuals over 50 years of age.
Nummular eczema is also known as discoid dermatitis or discoid eczema. The symptoms are coin-shaped, pink-red scaly plaques, which may look similar to other types of eczema, but feature a different shape.
At first, the lesions are tiny but then get larger and merge. They may also acquire superficial infections and develop sores.
In hand eczema, the skin is thick, dry, and scaly with painful, bleeding cracks. Identifying irritants or allergic triggers plays an important role in developing treatment strategies.
Several methods can help treat eczema, ranging from home care to prescription creams and medical procedures.
Home healthcare for eczema
Home treatments aim to reduce a person’s exposure to irritants and prevent further injury to the skin. The AAAAI offer several recommendations:
- washing new clothes before wearing them
- wearing comfortable clothes
- showering immediately after swimming to wash off chemicals from beaches or swimming pools
- using a broad-spectrum sunscreen of at least SPF 30
- keeping fingernails short to prevent skin damage from scratching
If a person has an allergy to dust mites, their eczema symptoms may worsen if they inhale these organisms. Because dust mites can reside in pillows, mattresses, and carpets, it is important to wash surfaces and materials regularly to keep them clean.
In addition, someone may wish to monitor eczema or a rash that worsens after eating certain foods. According to the AAAAI, allergies to foods may worsen eczema in young children, but this is rare in adults.
Natural remedies for eczema may also help. The AAAAI suggest the following:
- Bleach bath: Involves bathing once or twice per week in a very dilute bleach mixture. To make the dilution, mix 1/4 to 1/2 cup of bleach with 40 gallons of water.
- Wet-wrap therapy: Involves soaking the skin in water for 15 minutes and then patting dry. Afterward, a person applies anti-inflammatory medication to the affected area and covers it with a wet dressing.
- Stress-management techniques: May reduce feelings of stress and anger, which can worsen itching.
The AAAAI recommend the following treatments to reduce eczema symptoms:
- Moisturizers: May help with dry skin, which can worsen the eczema rash and itching.
- Steroids: Can be in the form of creams, lotions, or ointments to help reduce inflammation.
- Immunomodulators: A person who applies these via creams, lotions, or ointments may also reduce inflammation. They could be an option if steroids are not effective.
- Antihistamines: Do not reduce itching, but their sedative properties may help a person get sufficient sleep.
- Biologic medications: May reduce inflammation.
- Allergy shots: Can help if someone has an allergy to something that may be hard to avoid, such as dust mites.
- Antibiotics: These may help with fighting off infections.
Aside from the above treatments, phototherapy, or light therapy, could also help, which involves using ultraviolet light to reduce eczema symptoms.
If a person has symptoms of eczema, they can consult with their doctor to receive a diagnosis and treatment. Because there is no specific test for the condition, a healthcare professional may ask about an individual’s family history, including allergies, asthma, or hayfever. A patch test may also help to test for contact dermatitis.
Eczema is a skin condition that a person could have their entire life. However, they could outgrow it if it develops in childhood.
The most common type is called atopic dermatitis, with symptoms varying in people of different skin tones.
Treatment and management are similar for all skin tones, which can involve home remedies, medications, and lifestyle changes. A person who thinks they may have eczema can speak with their doctor for diagnosis and possible treatments.