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A to Z: Eczema

May also be called: Atopic Dermatitis

Eczema (EX-eh-muh) is a term that refers to a number of different skin conditions in which the skin has a sensitive, red and irritated rash.

More to Know

Eczema is a long-term (chronic) skin condition that is most commonly caused by atopic dermatitis. The word "atopic" describes conditions that happen when someone is overly sensitive to allergens in their environment, such as pollens, molds, dust, animal dander, and certain foods. "Dermatitis" means that the skin is inflamed (red and sore).

Eczema is not an allergy itself, but allergies can trigger eczema. Typically, eczema symptoms appear within the first few months of life, and almost always before a child turns 5. Eczema usually appears as itchy, dry, red skin that can get worse with scratching.

Eczema often runs in families, but it is not contagious. Many kids with eczema also will develop hay fever (seasonal allergies) or asthma. Researchers think it may be caused by a lack of certain proteins in the skin.

Treatment for eczema usually involves moisturizing creams, steroid creams, and non-steroid creams that can be applied directly to the affected skin. Doctors sometimes also recommend antihistamines to help control itching and antibiotics to treat secondary skin infections caused by scratching and breaks in the skin.

Keep in Mind

Eczema symptoms may disappear for a while and then come back, but more than half of the kids who have eczema today will be over it by the time they're teenagers. Eczema symptoms can be controlled through treatment, keeping skin well moisturized, and avoiding allergens and other things that can irritate the skin.

All A to Z dictionary entries are regularly reviewed by KidsHealth medical experts.

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