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Eczema is a term for several different types of skin swelling. Eczema is also called dermatitis. Most types cause dry, itchy skin and rashes on the face, inside the elbows and behind the knees, and on the hands and feet. Scratching the skin can cause it to turn red, and to swell and itch even more.

Eczema is not contagious. The cause of eczema is unknown. It is likely caused by both genetic and environmental factors. Eczema may get better or worse over time, but it is often a long-lasting disease. People who have it may also develop hay fever and asthma.

The most common type of eczema is atopic dermatitis. It is most common in babies and children, but adults can have it too. As children who have atopic dermatitis grow older, this problem may get better or go away. But sometimes the skin may stay dry and get irritated easily.


Eczema (atopic dermatitis) symptoms include:

Dry skin.

Itchy skin.

Red rashes.

Bumps on the skin.

Scaly, leathery patches of skin.

Crusting skin.


If you have eczema, you might also have another condition that doesn’t cause it, but is often found alongside it:




Sleep loss.



Eczema (atopic dermatitis) is caused by a combination of immune system activation, genetics, environmental triggers and stress.

Your immune system. If you have eczema, your immune system overreacts to small irritants or allergens. This overreaction can inflame your skin.

Your genetics. You’re more likely to have eczema if there is a history of dermatitis in your family. You’re also at a higher risk if there’s a history of asthma, hay fever and/or allergens. Allergens are substances like pollen, pet hair or foods that trigger an allergic reaction. Also, there might be a change in your genes that control a protein that helps your body maintain healthy skin. Without normal levels of that protein, your skin will not be completely healthy.

Your environment. There is a lot in your environment that can irritate your skin. Some examples include exposure to tobacco smoke, air pollutants, harsh soaps, fabrics such as wool and some skin products. Low humidity (dry air) can cause your skin to become dry and itchy. Heat and high humidity can cause sweating and that can make the itchiness even worse.

Your stress. Your stress levels can cause or worsen your eczema. There are mental/emotional signs of stress and physical signs of stress. They include:

Mental/emotional signs:


Difficulty relaxing.

Use of alcohol, tobacco, or illegal drugs to relax.

A negative opinion of yourself (low self-esteem).

Anxiety, constant worry.

Feeling overwhelmed.

Difficulty with concentration.

Irritability, mood swings, or a short temper.

Physical signs:

Nausea and dizziness.

Not wanting to have sex.

Sleeping too much.

Sleeping too little.



Muscle tension.

Aches and pains.

Risk factors

Infants are prone to eczema and 10% to 20% will have it. However, nearly half outgrow the condition or have significant improvement as they get older. Eczema affects males and females equally and is more common in people who have a personal or family history of asthma, environmental allergies and/or food allergies.

Skin irritants, including wool or synthetic clothing, soaps or detergents, cosmetics or perfumes, dust/sand, chemical solvents, chlorine.

Extremes in temperate or climate (cold or hot temperatures or dry air or extremely humid air)

Lack of moisturizing after bathing.

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Asthma and hay fever. Eczema sometimes precedes these conditions. ...

Chronic itchy, scaly skin. ...

Skin infections. ...

Irritant hand dermatitis. ...

Allergic contact dermatitis. ...

Sleep problems.


There is no cure for eczema, but there are a few things you can do to lessen your risk and prevent flare-ups.

If your baby is at risk of eczema because of a family history, it is best to breastfeed them exclusively for the first three months of life, or longer if possible.

Doctors advise continuing breast milk for at least up to six months (preferably one year) as you introduce your baby to solid food. Babies should also be protected from such potential allergens as pet hair, mites, and molds.

If you have eczema, try to keep stress to a minimum and take time for yourself to relax.

Moisturize your skin often.

Avoid sudden changes in temperature or humidity.

Try not to sweat or get too hot. ...

Manage stress, and take time for yourself to relax. ...

Avoid scratchy materials such as wool.

Don't use harsh soaps, detergents, or solvents.