The most common form of eczema (dermatitis) is atopic dermatitis and is not contagious. However, if the raw, irritated skin of eczema becomes infected, the infecting agent may be contagious. The exact cause of atopic dermatitis is not known, but because it often occurs in family members, it is felt that a person's inherited genes may play a role in its development.
What is eczema?
Eczema is an inflammatory condition of the skin where patches of skin become rough and inflamed, often producing tiny fluid-filled bumps that can leak clear fluid. Eczema can occur at any age and is often chronic. The condition has a tendency to periodically worsen and then subside. Eczema is a general term that includes many different types of skin problems. Eczema is also referred to as atopic dermatitis.
When does eczema appear? How will I know if I have eczema?
Some forms of atopic dermatitis start early in life (before 2 years of age) while others begin after 20 years of age. Rough, inflamed patches of skin may suggest eczema, particularly if the skin lesions intensify and then subside. The following criteria help physicians diagnose the disease:
- Skin changes that vary with age
- Chronic and relapsing skin changes
- Xerosis (dry skin)
- Elevated immunoglobulin E activity
- History of asthma or hay fever
- History of close relatives with eczema
- Symptom onset younger than 2 years of age
No specific test or blood markers exist for the diagnosis of atopic dermatitis so the diagnosis is made by the skin's appearance.
How does eczema spread?
Eczema does not spread from person to person. However, it can spread to various parts of the body (for example, the face, cheeks, and chin [of infants] and the neck, wrist, knees, and elbows [of adults]). Scratching the skin can make eczema worse.
Is there a cure for eczema?
Unfortunately, there is no known cure for eczema (atopic dermatitis). Topical steroids along with skin moisturization currently are the major treatments for eczema. Severe eczema treatment usually includes several drugs and is carefully monitored by a dermatologist.
When should someone seek medical care for eczema?
Eczema is usually not considered a medical emergency. People with eczema should contact a doctor if itching is interfering with daily activities and/or sleep, the crusting and oozing are increasing, the rash is becoming more widespread on the body, and/or painful cracks develop in the skin of the extremities.
Skin Problems and Treatments Resources
Health Solutions From Our Sponsors
Kim, Brian S. "Atopic Dermatitis Workup." Medscape.com. Jan. 10, 2022. <http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/1049085-workup>.