Atopic dermatitis (eczema) is a condition that makes your skin red and itchy. It's common in children but can occur at any age. Atopic dermatitis is long-lasting (chronic) and tends to flare periodically. It may be accompanied by asthma or hay fever.
Eczema is a condition where patches of skin become inflamed, itchy, red, cracked, and rough. Blisters may sometimes occur. Different stages and types of eczema affect 31.6 percent of people in the United States. The word "eczema" is also used specifically to talk about atopic dermatitis, the most common type of eczema.
No lab test is needed to identify atopic dermatitis (eczema). Your doctor will likely make a diagnosis by examining your skin and reviewing your medical history. He or she may also use patch testing or other tests to rule out other skin diseases or identify conditions that accompany your eczema.
If you suspect a certain food caused your child's rash, tell the doctor and ask about identifying potential food allergies.
Atopic dermatitis can be persistent. You may need to try various treatments over months or years to control it. And even if treatment is successful, signs and symptoms may return (flare). It's important to recognize the condition early so that you can start treatment.
To help reduce itching and soothe inflamed skin, try these self-care measures:
- Moisturize your skin at least twice a day.
- Apply an anti-itch cream to the affected area.
- Take an oral allergy or anti-itch medication. Options include nonprescription allergy medicines (antihistamines) — such as cetirizine (Zyrtec) or fexofenadine (Allegra). Also, diphenhydramine (Benadryl, others) may be helpful if itching is severe. But it causes drowsiness, so it's better for bedtime.
- Don't scratch. Rather than scratching when you itch, try pressing on the skin. Cover the itchy area if you can't keep from scratching it. For children, it might help to trim their nails and have them wear gloves at night.
- Apply bandages. Covering the affected area with bandages helps protect the skin and prevent scratching.
- Take a warm bath. Sprinkle the bath water with baking soda, uncooked oatmeal or colloidal oatmeal — a finely ground oatmeal that is made for the bathtub (Aveeno, others). Soak for 10 to 15 minutes, then pat dry. Apply moisturizer while the skin is still damp.
- Choose mild soaps without dyes or perfumes. Use soap that's superfatted and nonalkaline. Be sure to rinse off the soap completely.
- Use a humidifier. Hot, dry indoor air can parch sensitive skin and worsen itching and flaking.
- Wear cool, smooth-textured clothing. Reduce irritation by avoiding clothing that's rough, tight or scratchy.
- Treat stress and anxiety. Stress and other emotional disorders can worsen atopic dermatitis. Acknowledging those and trying to improve your emotional health can help.