An allergic skin disorder (also called atopic dermatitis) that usually appears in babies or very young children and may last until the child reaches adolescence or adulthood. Eczema causes the skin to itch, scale, and flake. Parents with eczema are more likely to have children with eczema. About 60 percent of children with eczema will develop signs in the first year of life; 85 percent will have symptoms within the first five years. Some children only have a few episodes of flareups, while other children will have atopic dermatitis all their lives. Eczema is very common; about 10 percent of infants and children have the condition.
Different triggers can make eczema worse, including stress, other allergies, scratching, and sweating.
As a child gets older, the location of symptoms tends to change. In infants and young children, the dry skin is usually located on the face, outside of the elbows, and on the knees. In older children and adults, eczema tends to be on the hands and feet, the front of the arms, and on the back of the knees.
Symptoms may include dry, scaly skin; small bumps; redness; and swelling. Chronic eczema may lead to thickened, hardened skin.
There is no cure for eczema. The main goal of treatment is to remove any irritants and decrease the amount of dryness and irritation. Daily application of creams, lotions, and antihistamines may help stop itching.
Children with atopic eczema should be bathed quickly with a mild, neutral soap no more than three times a week. Bath oil may prevent excess skin drying, and fingernails should be clipped to decrease damage from scratching. Children should avoid contact with things that irritate the skin. The child should wear lightweight clothes, since sweating can make eczema worse.
Medications may be prescribed in severe cases. Most common drugs include antihistamines to help decrease the itch, such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl) or hydroxyzine (Atarax). These medications may cause drowsiness. Some new antihistamines are also available that do not cause drowsiness, such as loratadine (Claritin) or Clarinex.
Steroid creams such as hydrocortisone ointments, mometasone (Elocon), or triamcinolone (Kenalog) help decrease the inflammation in the skin, thus decreasing the itching and swelling. New nonsteroidal creams are also available.