Understanding Eczema: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment Options

about eczema

Eczema may be a common skin condition but that doesn’t make it any more bearable. As someone who is suffering from this irritating skin condition that likes to cause random flare-ups at the most inopportune times, you’re likely desperate for a solution that actually works. Unfortunately, eczema is a lifelong condition with no known cure. However, that doesn’t mean you have to suffer either. There are a variety of effective treatments for eczema that can have a significant improvement on your skin, which quickly flows into a boost in self-confidence, self-esteem and overall mental health.    So, let’s not waste any time. In this article, we cover everything you need to know to start loving your skin again.

What is Eczema?

A common skin condition that affects more than 31 million Americans, eczema (also known as atopic dermatitis) causes red, dry itchy and irritated skin with the occasional flare up. It typically begins during infancy or early childhood and continues into adulthood. However, eczema can develop in people of all ages.

Eczema can also appear anywhere on the skin, including your hands, soles of your feet, fingers, groin, scalp, elbow and knee creases, legs, neck, and face. The symptoms can vary depending on the type of eczema you’re dealing with (keep reading for more on that). However, red, dry, itchy skin is pretty standard for all types.

The causes of eczema are just as vast and depend largely on the type of eczema you’re dealing with. However, some common factors that may trigger eczema flare-ups include:

  • dry skin
  • sweating
  • tobacco products
  • fragrances/scented products
  • chemicals in detergents and cleansers
  • scratchy material
  • allergens such as mold, dust, pollens and dust mites
  • temperature changes
  • harsh weather
  • stress
  • food allergies
  • upper respiratory infections
  • animal dander

Types of Eczema

There are various types of eczema, and the one you have can help you determine the type of rash you experience and where it occurs on your body.

Atopic dermatitis

The most common type of eczema is known as atopic dermatitis and it produces dry, red, itchy skin. The rash often occurs in the creases of your elbows and knees and may produce small bumps that may even leak fluid if you scratch them. Atopic dermatitis is typically caused by a variety of factors, such as dry skin, genes, a problem with the immune system or triggers in the environment.

Contact dermatitis

Eczema caused by exposure to something that irritates the skin or that triggers an allergic reaction is known as contact dermatitis. Your skin may become hyperpigmented or feel like it is burning or stinging. Blisters that are filled with fluid can also appear and they may leak out and crust over.

Dyshidrotic dermatitis

This type of eczema occurs on the palms of the hands, soles of the feet and fingers and produces itchy, scaly patches of skin that become red, cracked and painful. It can be caused by a variety of things, such as damp hands and feet, allergies, stress, tobacco products and exposure to substances and may also produce fluid-filled blisters, which can hurt or itch. Dyshidrotic dermatitis is more common in women than men.

Nummular dermatitis

A form of eczema that causes round, red and incredibly itchy scaly patches on the skin. It appears very different from the other types of eczema. It typically occurs on the lower legs and is often caused by a break in the skin’s barrier due to a reaction to an allergy, chemicals or even an insect bite.


Similar to atopic dermatitis, this form of eczema causes thick, scaly dry patches on the skin. It typically forms on the arms, legs, scalp, back of the neck, soles of the feet, backs of the hands or genitals, and can become very itchy. It’s believed that neurodermatitis is usually experienced in people who also have psoriasis or other types of eczema.

Statis dermatitis

Another type of eczema that is more common on the lower legs is statis dermatitis. It is caused by poor blood flow that causes fluid to leak out of weakened veins and into your skin. Statis dermatitis can produce swelling, redness, itching and pain, as well as varicose veins.

Seborrheic dermatitis

This form of eczema causes oily, scaly patches of skin typically where your oil-producing glands are, such as your scalp, hairline, nose, upper back and groin. It often appears like dandruff patches and is caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors, such as hormonal changes, cold weather, harsh detergents, illness, medical conditions, and medications.

Potential Complications of Untreated Eczema

While eczema may seem like nothing more than a skin condition to others, anyone who has personal experience with it knows that it can be much more. In addition to the symptoms being incredibly uncomfortable and even debilitating, there are several risks that are associated with eczema. This includes:

  • Self-confidence and self-esteem problems
  • Difficulties sleeping (the symptoms can keep you awake and even disrupt your sleep)
  • Skin infections
  • Asthma and hay fever
  • Thick, hard and scaly skin that worsens over time
  • Developing additional types of eczema
  • Bacterial infections
  • Viral infections

Treating Eczema

Although there is no cure for eczema, there are several different forms of treatment that can provide you with great relief. Some of these are conventional medical practices and others are natural alternatives you can do right in the comfort of your home. The right treatment for you highly depends on your personal preferences, as well as the type and severity of eczema you’re dealing with.

To help you determine what the best treatment for you may be, let’s take a look at some common options.

Eczema Medications

There are over-the-counter and prescription medications available for treating eczema. Antihistamines are a popular over-the-counter option that can relieve itchy by blocking an allergic reaction that’s triggered by histamine. Cortisone is another common option that comes in the form of cream or ointment and can help relieve itching and scaling.

If these options don’t work for you, your doctor can prescribe a higher dose as needed. They may also consider prescribing you an immunosuppressant that prevents your immune system from overreacting to help prevent flare-ups.

Light Therapy

Light therapy, also known as phototherapy, is a natural form of treatment that uses sunlamps (ultraviolet light) to help reduce immune system responses that are known to trigger eczema. These lights can also be used to prevent bacterial skin infections if you’ve scratched your skin and an infection has developed.  You can also purchase a sunlamp to do these treatments at home, which is a huge benefit since several sessions are typically needed to reduce or clear up a flare-up.

Reduce Stress

If you take a look at the various types of eczema, there is one factor that is almost always a common denominator: stress. As such, implementing some simple lifestyle changes that aim to reduce stress can not only help improve your eczema symptoms but also, your overall mental, physical and emotional health. Some things you can start to do to harness the benefits almost immediately are:

  • practicing yoga
  • using deep breathing exercises
  • meditating
  • journaling to release build-up stress and emotions
  • listening to calm music
  • going for a daily walk
  • use visualization techniques

Improving Your Sleep

Prioritizing sleep can also give your body the extra boost it needs to fight off flare-ups. Plus, you likely need the added sleep if your eczema symptoms keep you up at night. Ways to encourage a more restful sleep are:

  • turn off your electronics an hour before bed
  • use light-blocking curtains and shut off all of the lights
  • eliminate distractions
  • journal before bed to release build-up thoughts
  • use lavender essential oil in a diffuser or on your pillow to induce relaxation
  • sip chamomile tea
  • develop a wake-sleep schedule (and stick with it every day)

Natural Remedies

There are all kinds of effective natural remedies you can do at home to reduce eczema symptoms. Whether it’s soaking in a tub of oatmeal or using more natural skin care products, here are some suggestions to get you started:

  • Take a bath with oatmeal added to the water
  • Apply evening primrose oil to your skin to soothe irritated skin
  • Use coconut oil as a natural moisturizer (the antibacterial properties can also help prevent infection)
  • Apply sunflower oil to your skin to help lock in moisture and keep out bacteria (it can also help relieve itching)
  • Reduce skin inflammation with witch hazel by applying it directly to your irritated skin
  • Take vitamin D supplements to improve your skin barrier
  • Apply tea tree oil to the irritated skin to relieve itching

Practice Prevention

Learning how to prevent your eczema symptoms or reduce their severity of them is key to managing this skin condition. In addition to many of the natural treatment options mentioned above, you can also do the following to help prevent a flare-up:

  • identify and avoid triggers
  • keep your skin clean
  • reduce your shower/bath time to less than 10 minutes
  • avoid showering or bathing in super hot water
  • apply moisturizer daily
  • use high-quality, fragrance-free skincare products and cosmetics
  • opt for fragrance and dye-free products, cleansers and detergents
  • avoid itching your skin

Eczema may not have a cure, but there are all kinds of powerful alternative treatments out there that can help soothe your symptoms without the side effects of medication. And if you have to take medication, there’s no shame in that either. What’s important is that you find a treatment option that helps improve your skin, and ultimately, that makes you feel better physically, emotionally and mentally.

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