The primary symptom of this itchy skin condition isn’t exactly visible to the eye.
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.
Dr. Friedler is a dermatologist and clinical instructor at The Mount Sinai Hospital and St. John's Episcopal Hospital.
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The first thing to know is that eczema
symptoms won't be the same for everyone.
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Eczema can look different on you than
it does on another adult or child.
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Eczema symptoms may be different depending
on where they show up on your body.
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Eczema can be confused for
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other skin issues like psoriasis,
an allergic rash, or even a virus.
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If you're having symptoms, it's important
to see a dermatologist to get to
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the bottom of it and get a diagnosis.
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Eczema's primarily associated with itch.
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The scratching and
the itching can be really debilitating for
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patients, because it causes them to
lose focus and not be able to sleep.
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You can also see dry,
sensitive skin, red, inflamed skin,
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dark colored patches of skin, leathery or
scaly plaques, oozing and crusting.
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Skin creasing on the palms or
an extra fold of skin under the eyes.
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And darkening of the skin around the eyes.
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Not recognizing and treating eczema fast
enough can cause your case to worsen.
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If you get to a doctor and start
treatment, your eczema can be controlled.
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But if you let it go and you scratch and
the skin becomes thick and
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infection sets in,
it's much harder to treat.
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We want most patients to be on a good,
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think barrier cream to repair
the outer layer of skin.
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That's step one.
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But people who have thick or inflamed
skin, may need a topical steroid as well.
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For patients who have itching,
oral antihistamines can be very helpful.
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There are also antibacterial
sprays that help with itching and
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are soothing to the skin.
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Whenever you have a bad
habit like scratching,
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it's always helpful to replace it with
another good habit, like putting on
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a spray or putting on a medicated
ointment, or even some regular cream.
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Atopic dermatitis: Signs and symptoms. Schaumburg, IL: American Academy of Dermatology. (Accessed on August 24, 2017 at https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/eczema/atopic-dermatitis#symptoms.)
Eczema. Schaumburg, IL: American Academy of Dermatology. (Accessed on August 24, 2017 at https://www.aad.org/media/stats/conditions/eczema.)
What is eczema? San Rafael, CA: National Eczema Association. (Accessed on August 24, 2017 at https://nationaleczema.org/eczema/.)