Eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis, is a chronic inflammatory skin condition, characterized by dry skin, with red, intensely itchy patches that may ooze, become scaly, crusted, or hardened. Symptoms can range from mild to severe, and can negatively impact quality of life. Eczema can occur anywhere on the skin, and is commonly found on the bends of the arms and the backs of the knees. It can come and go, and migrate around the body; this is the chronic nature of the disease. When the skin cycles back to inflammation, this is called a flare-up.
The exact cause of eczema is unknown, but genetic, immunological, and environmental factors play a role. Eczema typically begins in early childhood, but may occur for the first time well into adulthood. Childhood eczema may be outgrown; however, skin may continue to be dry, irritable, and sensitive.
Keeping your skin moist and well hydrated is the best defense against recurrent flares. Avoid harsh soaps, and try to select products that are formulated for eczema and/or sensitive skin, including sunscreens. Other sun protection strategies should be used as well, such as avoiding peak sun exposure time, staying in the shade, and using loose and light protective clothing. Cotton clothing is often best tolerated by people with eczema. Avoid overheating and sweating when possible, as it increases itchiness, and can worsen eczema.
If you have worsening symptoms, or any questions, ask your physician. As well, check out the helpful links below for more information on eczema.