An Introduction to Eczema

Patient Education: An Introduction to Eczema (Atopic Dermatitis)

What is eczema?

Eczema is a fairly common skin condition that causes areas of your skin to become itchy, red, inflamed, cracked, rough, and/or flaky. Medical terminology for eczema is “atopic dermatitis”. It can affect infants, children, and adults. There are several factors that can cause eczema. Although it is different for everyone, patients can experience eczema due to a genetic predisposition, allergies, and/or environmental triggers, just to name a few.

Symptoms of Eczema

Patients who have eczema may experience:

  • Intense itching
  • Redness
  • Small Bumps
  • Skin that flakes off or becomes scaly (dry and flaking)

Location and symptoms of eczema varies with age

  • Babies

    Babies typically experience eczema on the front of their arms, legs, cheeks or scalp

  • Older children and adults

    Older children and adults often experience eczema on the sides of their neck, elbow creases, and back of the knees. Eczema is also commonly experienced on the patient’s wrists, hands, forearms, and face but it varies for every patient.

  • Older children and adults

    Older children and adults can also experience thickening and darkening of the skin when experiencing eczema. It is important not to excessively scratch the skin when experiencing eczema as that may cause scarring of the skin.

How can I reduce my symptoms?

Use unscented thick moisturizing creams (Eucerin, Cetaphil, Aveeno, and Nutraderm) and ointments (Petroleum jelly, Aquaphor, and Vaseline) to prevent the skin from over-drying. Creams that contain little to no water will be most effective at keeping moisture in the skin. Avoid things that can make eczema worse, such as:

  • Not treating dry skin with moisturizing creams or ointments
  • Excessively sweating
  • Being constantly exposed to dry air
  • Constant emotional stress or worry
  • Sudden temperature changes
  • Harsh soaps and/or cleansing products
  • Perfumes
  • Wool or synthetic fabrics (like polyester)
  • Dust, sand, cigarette smoke
  • Hot or long showers and baths (more than 10 to 15 minutes)
  • Scratching the skin — this can cause the skin to become infected

You can also reduce symptoms using wet dressings or wet wraps. These can be used to reduce itching, redness, and scratching. You can wear these dressings during the day or night. Dampen cotton garments, such as gauze, or use a towel.

*For information on how to reduce symptoms using medication, please refer to the patient education handout regarding antihistamines and steroids for allergies and eczema.

How is eczema diagnosed?

There is no blood test for eczema but a skin biopsy can aid in making the diagnosis, although it is not specific. Eczema is mostly diagnosed clinically by experienced physicians through a physical examination of the skin. Feel free to make an appointment to see Dr. Sahfa for your skin disease, diagnosis and treatment.

How is eczema treated?

Although eczema cannot be completely cured forever, fortunately, there are treatments to get your eczema under control and relieve the annoying symptoms of an eczema flare-up. If you understand our treatment plan, we can reach our goal sooner. So, please participate in treatment which is:

  • Moisturizing creams or ointments

    Eczematous skin is usually too dry and scaly. Dryness is the number one cause of itching and injured skin heals better in a moist environment therefore you must try to keep your eczema lubricated all the time to help to heal faster with less itching. Dr. Shafa recommends applying moisturizing creams or ointments immediately after a bath or shower while your skin is damp. This will help lock in moisture into your skin.

  • Steroid creams and ointments

    Steroids can be used to reduce any inflammation caused by eczema. Overuse or inappropriate dosage and frequency of steroids can cause side effects. Please follow Dr. Shafa’s order precisely when the steroid is prescribed for your eczema.

  • Antihistamine pills

    Antihistamines are used to relieve itching due to allergy, eczema, and most of the other illnesses that can cause itchiness. The dosage and instruction of antihistamines prescribed is different than OTC options.

  • Phototherapy

    Phototherapy is a treatment for some skin disease where your skin is exposed to ultraviolet (UV) irradiation. Please discuss this with Dr. Shafa to see if you are a candidate for this treatment. You can also refer to our website for more information regarding phototherapy. (

*For more detailed information regarding steroids and antihistamines, please refer to the patient education handout regarding antihistamines and steroids for allergies and eczema.

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