Ask anyone what they think eczema is all about, and they’ll probably respond with something about rashes. That makes sense: It’s the eczema symptom most visible to others.
But rashes are only part of the eczema equation. In fact, you could say they are an effect of the primary symptom of eczema: dry, itchy skin. (For more information, here’s an overview of eczema, or atopic dermatitis.)
People with eczema will generally experience such intense itching that their skin may become red, inflamed, rough, flaky, and even scaly. Excessive scratching can lead to darker colored or leathery patches of skin, oozing or crusting, and small bumps from clogged hair follicles, according to the National Eczema Association.
Here’s the kicker: When people with eczema give in to the tempting urge to scratch, all that itching can lead to rashes that bleed, and that makes the itching sensation worse. In other words, scratching that dry, itchy skin will increasingly make eczema symptoms worse. This is known as the “itch-scratch cycle.”
Although eczema has no cure, about half of patients who get eczema as children see their symptoms become milder during adulthood. In babies, eczema symptoms mostly appear on the cheeks, scalp, or the front of arms and legs. During adolescence and young adulthood, eczema may affect the sides of the neck, the creases of the elbow, and the backs of the knees.
Older adults may see symptoms of eczema all over the body, but it may be worse on the neck and face. Some adults may experience very dry skin with a persistent itch that is worse than what is seen in children, which may lead to rashes, bleeding, scaly skin, and infections.
One of the best ways to manage eczema symptoms is by keeping your skin properly moisturized. Here are tips for choosing the right moisturizer for eczema. To stop making eczema symptoms worse, here are four common skin care habits to avoid.