What You Should Know About Atopic Dermatitis

Skin Symptoms & Concerns

What You Should Know About Atopic Dermatitis

Atopic Dermatitis

You noticed that you had some red, bumpy, and super itchy rashes on your skin, so you head to a dermatologist or doctor to see what’s going on. Or maybe you’ve typed your symptoms into Google to see what comes up (hey, we all do it). Here’s what you’ve figured out: You have atopic dermatitis, more commonly known as eczema.

You’ve heard the term before, but beyond that, you’ll admit that you know next to nothing about what eczema is and how you can treat it. Look no further—we have the answers you need right here.

What is eczema?

Dermatitis is a broad term for any type of condition that causes inflammation of your skin. Eczema (or atopic dermatitis) is the most common type of dermatitis and is characterized by itchy, bumpy, dry, and red patches on your skin.

Having a bumpy, red rash suddenly appear can be alarming and leave you wondering: Can eczema be spread? The answer is no. It’s not contagious, so you don’t need to worry about passing it to other people around you.

What causes eczema?

As the Mayo Clinic explains, eczema is the result of a gene variation that impacts your skin’s ability to retain moisture and protect itself against bacteria and allergens. You’re at greater risk for this gene variation if you have allergies (sometimes known as hay fever), asthma, or a family history of eczema. That anomaly in your genes makes you a more vulnerable target for all sorts of irritants that are present in our daily lives.

Beyond genes, what triggers eczema? The National Eczema Association shares that a variety of common things can be eczema triggers, including (but not limited to):

  • Certain fabrics
  • Cigarette smoke
  • Dry skin
  • Fragrances
  • Household cleaners
  • Known allergy triggers (like pollen or animal dander)

Unfortunately, there are a few more potential triggers. For example? Stress.

Can eczema also be caused by stress?

This is a common question. And the answer is that high stress levels themselves don’t cause eczema—remember, that gene variation needs to be there. However, studies have found that stress and anxiety can trigger flare-ups in people who already have eczema.

What does eczema look like?

While eczema is the most common type of dermatitis, it’s certainly not the only thing that can cause itchy, red rashes on your skin. So, how can you tell if you’re dealing with eczema or something else?

The Allergy and Asthma Network states that the most recognizable and prevalent symptoms of eczema include:

  • Dry skin
  • Itchy skin
  • Oozing or crusting from skin
  • Puffy or swollen skin
  • Raw skin
  • Redness
  • Thick, leathery patches of skin

These can show up anywhere on your skin, but the Cleveland Clinic says that adults typically find eczema on their hands, neck, inner elbows, ankles, knees, feet, and even around their eyes.

If you have several of those symptoms, then it’s likely that you have eczema. But of course, the best way to know for sure is to get an official diagnosis.

Is eczema painful?

Beyond the appearance of eczema, there’s likely another question that’s looming in your brain: Is eczema painful? Not typically. It’s definitely uncomfortable and irritating (hey, nobody wants to feel itchy), but it shouldn’t be overwhelmingly painful.

However, if the itching becomes so severe that it burns or you scratch open sores in your skin, then you need to speak with a doctor to explore treatment options and manage your symptoms and your pain.

How is eczema treated?

So, what helps eczema? While there isn’t a cure for the condition, there are several treatment options that can help you improve your symptoms. These include:

  • Topical corticosteroid creams or ointments that help ease itching and repair your skin barrier
  • Oral antibiotics or antibiotic creams if a doctor decides that your skin has a bacterial infection
  • Oral corticosteroids that control inflammation, but these are typically reserved for severe cases of eczema

Some people with eczema try other remedies and treatments. Light therapy is one example, where the skin is exposed to a controlled amount of sunlight. Injections of certain medications, such as dupilumab, can also be helpful for moderate or severe eczema.

However, the above options are by far the most prevalent for treating eczema.

How can I stop eczema itching immediately?

Maybe you’re looking for more than one of the above treatment options. Maybe you need something that’s going to ease your relentless eczema itching—and fast.

A topical corticosteroid cream or ointment can absolutely help keep your itching at a minimum, but here are a few other things you can try to get some much-needed relief:

  • Avoid scratching: We know—cue the eye rolls. It feels impossible to stop itching at your eczema, but scratching actually causes more inflammation which leads to more eczema and dryness. It’s a vicious cycle that Facet Medical Advisor Dr. Peter Young describes as “the rash that itches, and the itch that rashes.” What does that mean? The more you scratch your rashes, the more rashes you’ll have. So, rather than clawing at your skin, try gently patting or pressing it to soothe it. You might also want to cover any itchy areas with bandages to prevent you from scratching.
  • Apply an over-the-counter anti-itch cream: Camphor and menthol are particularly helpful ingredients.
  • Apply over-the-counter topical hydrocortisone: This may provide some temporary relief. Look for one that contains at least 1% hydrocortisone and apply it to your itchiest spots (no more than twice per day) immediately after moisturizing.
  • Apply a cool compress: Soak a washcloth in cold water, wring it out until it’s damp, and then gently apply the cool compress to itchy areas. Afterwards, make sure you apply an unscented moisturizer to those same spots.
  • Take an oral antihistamine: An over-the-counter (OTC) antihistamine like cetirizine or diphenhydramine won’t actually treat your eczema flare-up, but it might help relieve some of your itching.
  • Take a warm (not hot) bath: For extra relief, sprinkle some baking soda or uncooked oatmeal into the tub and soak for 10-15 minutes. When you’re finished, pat yourself dry and apply an unscented moisturizer. -Moisturize after showering and washing your hands: Speaking of bathing, use a fragrance-free cream or ointment instead of a lotion after drying off. (Double tip: Always opt for scent-free and fragrance-free with all your products.)
  • Wear loose-fitting clothing: And make sure that when you wash your clothes, you use fragrance-free and dye-free detergent. While it may be tempting, avoid fabric softeners.

Once you figure out which of these tips is right for you, it’s time to start thinking about your long-term plan.

(P.S Looking for a solution to allergy symptoms? Take the Picnic Allergy quiz and get a personalized treatment Pack.)

Keep your eczema (and itchiness) under control

As you can see, while there’s no cure for eczema, that doesn’t mean you’re totally powerless. There are things you can do to help ease your symptoms and scratching—or even prevent them in the first place.

One of the best things you can do is to focus on moisture and hydration. Drink plenty of water each day and moisturize regularly to prevent your skin from becoming too dry, as that can trigger your eczema.

It’s also smart to make sure you’re stocked with the right medications and treatment options so that you’re ready to nip a flare-up (and all of that dreadful itchiness) in the bud.

Article Reviewed By

Dr. Peter Young, MD, Facet Medical Director and Board-Certified Dermatologist

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