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Eczema 

Introduction
Eczema is a chronic hypersensitive skin reaction, similar to an allergy.  Atopic dermatitis is a common form of eczema.  The hallmark symptoms of eczema are intense itching and a red rash.  Environmental irritants, stress, water, and temperature changes may worsen the symptoms.  Fortunately, there are a variety of medications and preventative measures that can help ease your symptoms.

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Anatomy
Your skin covers your body and protects it from the environment.  It is composed of three layers, the epidermis, dermis, and subcutaneous tissue.  The epidermis is the outermost layer of your skin.  It protects the inner layers.  The cells at the bottom layer of the epidermis continually move upward to the outer layer.  They eventually wear off and are replaced by the next layer of cells.

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Causes
The exact cause of eczema is unknown, but it appears to be an inherited condition in some families.

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Symptoms
Eczema causes very itchy rash-like areas on the skin.  Your skin may blister, ooze, and become raw or crusty.  The skin may be very dry, leathery, or inflamed.  Eczema occurs most commonly on the cheeks, elbows, and knees of infants and on the inside of the knees and elbows of adults.

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Diagnosis
Your doctor can diagnose eczema by examining your skin.  A biopsy may be taken to analyze the skin cells and help confirm the diagnosis. 

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Treatment
Treatment for eczema depends on the symptoms.  Oozing skin is treated with moisturizers and dressings.  Anti-itch or corticosteroid lotions are used to treat healing or dry areas.  Tar compounds, anti-inflammatory medications, topical immunomodulators (TIMs) or corticosteroid medications are used to treat chronic eczema or thickened skin.  Your doctor will recommend a specific skin care regime for you.  Continue your skin care routine even after the eczema has healed.

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Prevention
There are many ways you may help to prevent eczema, including:

• Avoid environmental irritants that cause your symptoms, such as water or temperature changes.
• Moisturize your skin to prevent dryness.
• Manage daily stress, participate in relaxation techniques
• Avoid household irritants, such as cleaners, soaps, aftershave lotion, and solvents
• Wear gloves when your hands are exposed to water, irritants, or cold temperatures
• Wear clothes made of cotton or a cotton blend
• Use mild soap and moisturize after bathing
• Avoid moisturizers and skin products with perfume, extra ingredients, or preservatives
• Avoid getting hot and sweaty.

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Am I at Risk
A family history of eczema may increase your risk for the condition.  As may a family history of:
•  Allergies
•  Asthma
•  Hay Fever

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Complications
Chronic eczema can lead to bacterial skin infections or scarring.

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This information is intended for educational and informational purposes only. It should not be used in place of an individual consultation or examination or replace the advice of your health care professional and should not be relied upon to determine diagnosis or course of treatment.

The iHealthSpot patient education library was written collaboratively by the iHealthSpot editorial team which includes Senior Medical Authors Dr. Mary Car-Blanchard, OTD/OTR/L and Valerie K. Clark, and the following editorial advisors: Steve Meadows, MD, Ernie F. Soto, DDS, Ronald J. Glatzer, MD, Jonathan Rosenberg, MD, Christopher M. Nolte, MD, David Applebaum, MD, Jonathan M. Tarrash, MD, and Paula Soto, RN/BSN. This content complies with the HONcode standard for trustworthy health information. The library commenced development on September 1, 2005 with the latest update/addition on April 13th, 2016. For information on iHealthSpot’s other services including medical website design, visit www.iHealthSpot.com.