Who gets eczema?
Eczema occurs in both children and adults, but usually appears during
infancy. Although there is no known cause for the disease, it often
affects people with a family history of allergies.
Those who are genetically predisposed and then exposed to
environmental triggers may develop eczema. Many people who have eczema
also suffer from allergic rhinitis and asthma, or have family members
How common is eczema?
The National Institutes of Health estimates that 15 million people in
the United States have some form of eczema. About 10 percent to 20
percent of all infants have eczema; however, in nearly half of these
children, the disease will improve greatly by the time they are between
five and 15 years of age. Others will have some form of the disease
throughout their lives.
How can eczema be prevented?
Eczema outbreaks can usually be avoided with some simple precautions.
The following suggestions may help to reduce the severity and frequency
Avoid sudden changes in temperature or humidity
Avoid sweating or overheating
Avoid scratchy materials (e.g., wool or other irritants)
Avoid harsh soaps, detergents, and solvents
Avoid environmental factors that trigger allergies (e.g.,
pollens, molds, mites, and animal dander)
Be aware of any foods that may cause an outbreak and
avoid those foods
How can eczema be treated?
One of the most important components of an eczema
treatment routine is to prevent scratching. Because eczema is usually
dry and itchy, the most common treatment is the application of lotions
or creams to keep the skin as moist as possible. These treatments are
generally most effective when applied directly after bathing (within
three minutes is a common recommendation) so that the moisture from the
bath is "locked in." Cold compresses applied directly to itchy skin can
also help relieve itching. If the condition persists, worsens, or does
not improve satisfactorily, another effective treatment is the
application of nonprescription corticosteroid creams and ointments to
Alternatives to nonprescription corticosteroids include
more potent prescription corticosteroid creams and ointments, which are
effective, but which may have some side effects. To prevent side effects
such as skin thinning, your doctor may limit the length of treatment
time and locations where you can apply treatment. For severe flare-ups,
your doctor may prescribe oral corticosteroids, but be aware that side
effects including new flare-ups can develop when treatment is
discontinued (this treatment is not recommended for long-term use).
Skin affected by eczema may frequently become infected.
If this happens to you, your doctor may prescribe topical or oral
antibiotics to kill the bacteria causing the infection.
For severe itching, sedative antihistamines are sometimes used to reduce
the itch and are available in both prescription and over-the-counter
varieties. Because drowsiness is a common side effect, antihistamines
are often used in the evening to help a person restless from eczema get
to sleep. Because of the same sedative effect, though, persons taking
these agents should not drive. Tar treatments and phototherapy are also
used and can have positive effects; however, tar can be messy.
Phototherapy requires special equipment (lights). Finally, in cases
where eczema is resistant to therapy, your physician may prescribe the
drug cyclosporine A, which modifies immune response; however, this is
used only in extreme cases because of its association with serious side
Two topical medications, tacrolimus and pimecrolimus,
have been approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to
treat atopic dermatitis. These medications belong to a class of drugs
called calcineurin inhibitors and work by modulating the immune
response. Pimecrolimus and tacrolimus are a much-welcomed addition
because they have not produced some of the side effects associated with
long-term topical corticosteroid use, such as thinning skin and loss of
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