Eczema (atopic dermatitis)
- Eczema (also called atopic dermatitis) affects the skin, causing redness, itching and sometimes infections. When eczema worsens this is called an eczema flare. Usually there is no single trigger for an eczema flare.
- In people with eczema the skin does not retain moisture very well, which causes it to dry out easily. This makes the skin more open to allergens and irritants. These can trigger the skin to release chemicals that make the skin itchy. Scratching itchy skin causes more chemicals to be released, making the skin feel more itchy. This "scratch and itch" cycle can cause discomfort, disrupt sleep and affect quality of life.
- Eczema is a chronic health problem that affects many people of all ages, but is most common in infants:
- Infantile eczema occurs in around 1 in 5 children under 2 years of age. It usually starts in the first 6 months and often improves between 2 to 5 years of age.
- Childhood eczema may follow or can start for the first time between 2 to 4 years of age. Rashes and dryness are usually in elbow creases, behind the knees, across ankles, or on face, ears and neck.
- Adult eczema symptoms occur in similar areas to childhood eczema. Over time this can cause rough, hard and thickened skin. Eczema tends to improve in middle life and is unusual in the elderly.
- Many people with eczema already have other allergies or can develop other allergies, such as allergic rhinitis (hay fever), asthma, food allergy or dust mite allergy. Studies have reported that up to 3 in 10 infants with eczema and a family history of allergy will develop food allergy and up to 4 in 10 infants will develop asthma and/or allergic rhinitis.
- Managing eczema well may help prevent allergies from developing in some people. Some research has shown that managing eczema well in infants may reduce the chance of children developing food allergy.
- Eczema can be well managed, and the following steps may be used as a guide:
- Maintain skin every day regardless of whether eczema is present by applying moisturiser twice each day to the face and body. Bleach baths may be used as directed to prevent infected eczema.
- Avoid triggers and irritants of eczema where possible, such as allergens, soap, perfumes, overheating and exposure to prickly fabrics.
- Treat eczema flares or severe eczema (and continue to maintain skin every day) by applying cortisone and non-steroid creams or ointments as soon as there is an eczema flare. Wet dressings may be used on the body or head and a cool compress can be used on the face. New immune modulating treatments for eczema continue to be developed.
- Treat infections using prescribed treatments as directed.
- It is important to see your doctor if eczema does not improve within a week or if unwell with a fever.
© ASCIA 2018
ASCIA is the peak professional body of clinical immunology/allergy specialists in Australia and New Zealand
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This document has been developed and peer reviewed by ASCIA members and is based on expert opinion and the available published literature at the time of review. Information contained in this document is not intended to replace medical advice and any questions regarding a medical diagnosis or treatment should be directed to a medical practitioner. Development of this document is not funded by any commercial sources and is not influenced by commercial organisations.
Content updated November 2018