Eczema is a common skin disorder frequently associated with allergies. Its most common characteristic is a very itchy rash, which can take a variety of forms, frequently a scaly, dry appearance. In small children it is often seen on the face and trunk, but as people get older it is more common on the arms and legs, especially around the elbows and knees. The back of the neck and behind the ears are common trouble spots also.

Eczema is actually a complicated multi-faceted problem aggravated or caused by a variety of factors, such as stress, anxiety, dry weather or allergies. Sometimes, there seems to be no cause at all. It is not contagious and only very rarely leads to any true skin damage or scarring. There is no cure for eczema, but it can usually be well controlled with proper treatment.

In many people, especially young children, eczema is closely related to allergic sensitivity, especially to foods. When this is the case, proper control can rarely be achieved without treatment of the underlying allergy. Therefore testing to determine if it is related to certain allergies is frequently necessary. Occasionally, very restrictive food elimination trials may be needed.

There are actually three components to the skin rash in eczema: itching, inflammation and infection. Proper treatment of eczema requires recognition and often treatment of all three components. People with eczema intrinsically have very itchy skin. This itchiness can be aggravated by underlying allergies or anything which dries the skin. Thus all people with eczema need to develop a careful regimen to adequately prevent skin dryness. People in whom allergies affect their eczema also need to treat their underlying allergy (minimizing exposure is the key – often with food elimination). Anti-itch medications are often necessary. Secondly, medications (usually applied directly to the skin) are used to suppress inflammation. Third, antibiotics (by mouth or applied to the skin) sometimes need to be added if there is any sign of active infection. Optimal control of eczema requires the proper use of the above. A specific treatment plan should be devised for you by your physician.

Photo Credit: OpenStax College CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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