Also called dermatitis, eczema is a chronic skin condition that causes red, scaly, itchy patches of skin that can bleed or weep when scratched or rubbed. Patches are often surrounded by crusting. Without proper medical attention, the areas of the skin affected by eczema can become hard and leathery, a condition called lichen simplex chronicus or simply lichenification. Scratching affected areas can also increase the risk of skin infections. Eczema is especially common among children, sometimes clearing up during adulthood. Less commonly, it develops later in adulthood.
Eczema symptoms occur when the skin becomes inflamed, and medical researchers believe inflammation occurs as a result of an immune system reaction or malfunction. People with a family history of eczema are also more likely to have the disease. Eczema symptoms become worse during flareups which may be caused by triggers like:
Eczema is also more common among people with allergies and asthma, and it cannot be spread from one person to another.
Before treatment begins, the skin will be carefully evaluated to ensure eczema is the cause of symptoms. While a visual examination and a review of the patient's personal and family medical history is usually enough to diagnose the condition, in a few cases a small tissue sample or scraping may be taken for additional evaluation. Most patients can find relief for symptoms and prevent or reduce the incidence of flareups with a combination of topical creams or oral medications (or both) and lifestyle changes, like taking shorter, cooler showers, avoiding hot baths, using moisturizers regularly to protect skin and keep it healthy, avoiding harsh soaps and detergents, and learning how to manage stress. For people with severe symptoms that don't respond to these conservative approaches, UV light therapy may be prescribed to control scaliness, itching and other symptoms. Routine office visits are also important for keeping symptoms under control.
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