Eczema: an itch that won’t quit

November 18, 2015 Providence Health Team

You itch. You scratch. Despite a good splash of body lotion to soothe your skin, it’s a nagging nuisance that just won’t go away.

Atopic dermatitis, also known as eczema, is an itchy skin inflammation that can affect a person of any age. Infants are a common target: up to 20 percent of newborns show signs of skin inflammation. Most outgrow the condition as they reach adulthood, but three percent of American adults continue to deal with occasional flare-ups. For most people with eczema, it comes and goes. It may even disappear for several years only to return with a vengeance.

Eczema can appear on any part of the body. But this inflammation is most often found on arms and behind the knees. Many folks wake up to find a scaly patch of redness on their face or surrounding their eyes.

Symptoms of Eczema

  • Thick, scaly or cracked skin
  • Persistent itching, sometimes severe, and often at night
  • Red or brownish patches on the skin
  • Raised bumps that may ooze fluid
  • Scabby areas that become sensitive when scratched

Dermatologists don’t know what causes eczema, but it’s surmised to be triggered by the immune system’s overreaction to an irritant. Numerous factors, including genetics, allergies, household chemicals, soaps, animal dander, clothing that chafes, or stress can trigger eczema.

Like most health conditions, it’s best to get treatment early. Constant scratching can aggravate eczema. When the affected skin is broken, bacteria like staph, which is present on everyone’s skin, can invade the area. Once that happens, it’s harder to heal since the urge to scratch intensifies. The skin can become thick and leathery, and constant scratching can leave permanent scars. If you feel pain of think you may have an infection, consult a health care professional as soon as possible. 

If you think you have eczema, write down your symptoms, in the order in which they appeared, and note physical changes to the skin. List any external factors that may have triggered or exacerbated your condition, for instance, changes in soaps or shampoos, hot showers, tobacco smoke or heavy perspiration.

Exzema Treatments

If you have mild eczema, over-the-counter anti-itch creams usually will ease your condition. If it’s more severe eczema, your doctor may elect to prescribe a low-dose corticosteroid cream or ointment. Oral antihistamines also can help relieve itching. The most severe cases often are treated with immunomodulators, a class of medication that treats the immune system. Sometimes phototherapy – also known as light therapy – is used to treat the most persistent atopic dermatitis cases.

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