Eczema is More Than Just an Itch

May 26, 2021 / Dermatology

Thomas Rosenfeld, MD
Chief, Division of Dermatology

Eczema is an inflammatory disorder of the skin, producing a red and itchy rash sometimes accompanied by weeping blisters. In later stages the skin can become thickened, cracked and rough. There are several sub-types of eczema, including contact dermatitis and atopic dermatitis, which are the most common.

Over 10% of Americans suffer from some form of eczema, which can begin at any age. The exact cause of eczema is not known, but it is believed that a combination of genes and environmental triggers cause it to occur. People with eczema tend to have an over-active immune system, a much lower threshold for itching, and a higher amount of a type of staphylococcus bacteria on their skin. In addition, the skin barrier is more porous, and minor irritants may cause excessive inflammation in the skin. Eczema is not contagious, so you don’t have to worry about giving it to someone else.

The symptoms of eczema are different for everyone and it looks different from person to person. You can even have different types of eczema in different areas of the body at the same time. The main symptoms of eczema are:

  • Itching
  • Dry, sensitive skin
  • Oozing or crusting
  • Inflamed and discolored skin
  • Rough, leathery or scaly patches of skin
  • Areas of swelling
  • Secondary infections

The symptoms of eczema often flare up and then subside for a time. Eczema symptoms often get worse at night, and this can make it difficult to sleep. When eczema is particularly irritating, people often scratch at their skin, which worsens the condition. This is called the itch-scratch cycle and can occur at night when people are sleeping or not fully awake. Excessive scratching can often cause bleeding and needs to be avoided to prevent the chance of infection.

Fortunately, if you have eczema, there are some excellent treatments that can bring it under control, including over-the-counter medications, prescription medications, phototherapy, as well as immunosuppressant and biologic drugs.

Antihistamines can help the itch of eczema, but higher doses may be required, and some may cause drowsiness.  Here are some tips to relieve itching that don’t require medication:

  • Apply a cold compress
  • Pinch and pat itchy skin instead of scratching
  • Take a bath with baking soda added to the water. Baking soda and water can also be applied as a cold compress twice a day.
  • Wear soft, breathable cotton clothing
  • Moisturize frequently throughout the day with an ointment or cream that contains ceramides, or petroleum jelly, on damp skin. Avoid products with fragrances.

If you’re experience symptoms of eczema, talk to your primary care provider or a dermatologist. Our dermatology department is welcoming new patients! Learn more here.

Eczema is More Than Just an Itch

About Thomas Rosenfeld, MD, Chief of Dermatology

Dr. Thomas Rosenfeld was always interested in science as a child, so it’s no surprise that he decided to go into medicine. Before his undergraduate years, he worked in a hospital emergency room to get an idea of what aspect of medicine interested him most. It was during his medical school education that he decided on dermatology. He was on morning rounds, in 3rd year, at the VCU hospital when a woman was being treated for blood...

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