Stop the Itch! Identifying and Treating Eczema

Eleanor Kurtz, MD

Do you have dry, reddened, itchy skin?  You may have eczema.  Eczema is a common skin condition often referred to by physicians as “atopic dermatitis.”  While we don’t know exactly why eczema develops, most experts believe it is a result of abnormal development of the skin rather than an allergic response.  There is a genetic tendency towards developing eczema, but it isn’t unheard of for someone with no family history of eczema to develop it.

Eczema in Children

Most people develop eczema before the age of 5 years, though it is possible to develop it later in life.  Eczema tends to affect different ages in different ways.   Infants with eczema classically have a red, bumpy, scaly rash on their face and scalp, though it may also involve the trunk and extremities.  The rash may weep clear yellowish fluid that turns into a crust and there may be small blisters.

In older children, eczema typically is seen on skin folds, most often inside the elbows and wrists, on the neck and behind the knees.  The skin is dry,  often appears slightly darker than uninvolved areas and has an almost velvety texture that is due to thickening of the involved skin.  Weeping, crusting and blistering is unusual.



Adults with Eczema

Adults with atopic dermatitis most often have involvement of their hands (frequently on the palms) and feet, as well as inside the elbows and behind the knees as seen in children.  The areas involved are often described as “lichenified”, meaning that the fine lines that are normally present on the skin are visibly increased and the skin is thickened.

There is no specific test for eczema. Your primary care doctor can usually make the diagnosis based on your history and the appearance of the rash.

Treating Eczema

Treatment typically involves the use of a topical anti-inflammatory or steroid and antihistamines like Benadryl for control of itching.  Be aware that certain areas of the body require different potency steroid creams to be effective and avoid side effects.  Even though it may seem economical, never borrow a prescription steroid cream from a friend or family member.  Once the skin is no longer inflamed, you can lessen eczema flares by avoiding soaking in hot showers or baths and by immediately applying a thick cream or ointment (petroleum jelly, Eucerin®, Vaseline®, Aquaphor®) after bathing.

Some foods can be triggers for eczema flares in infants and young children.  If you think your child has eczema, talk with your child’s doctor to see if there are foods your child should avoid.


Sometimes infections set in where eczema has caused a breakdown in the barrier function of the skin.  In these cases, a physician will need to evaluate you and determine what treatment is appropriate.

About Dr. Eleanor Kurtz
Eleanor Kurtz, MD, of Bon Secours Medical Associates at Virginia Beach, is an internal medicine physician who earned her medical degree from The Ohio State University College of Medicine in Columbus, Ohio. She completed an internship, as well as a residency in internal medicine, at Eastern Virginia Medical School in Norfolk, Va. A diplomate of the American Board of Internal Medicine, Dr. Kurtz is a member of the American Medical Association and American College of Physicians. She has a special interest in wound care. Read more blog posts by Dr. Kurtz!

To schedule an appointment with Dr. Kurtz in Virginia Beach please call (757) 305-1797!

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  1. Pingback: Bon Secours 757 Good Health Blog | Fast Food Linked to Asthma, Eczema Among Children, Study Finds

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