Eczema ( atopic eczema or atopic dermatitis) can't be cured, but home care and medical treatments can help ease symptoms of itchy, red, dry and cracked patches of skin.
Always seek medical advice for eczema so the condition can be correctly diagnosed and treated.
Some treatments can be done at home, others will need a doctor's recommendation.
Treatment may be needed daily, or just during flare-ups, depending on individual circumstances.
A GP may make a referral to a skin specialist (dermatologist) or other experts for further assessment and treatment.
Home care for eczema
Home care steps for eczema symptoms include:
- Try to avoid scratching itchy skin, try rubbing instead - or get special mittens for babies with eczema
- Clip nails shorter to reduce scratching.
Avoid eczema triggers
If certain things seem to trigger an eczema flare-up, see if you can avoid them if possible.
Possible triggers to consider include:
- Some types of fabric or clothes
- Hotter temperatures, try turning heating down, avoid getting too hot
- Scented soaps or laundry products
- House dust mites.
If some foods or drinks seem to make eczema worse, don't make big changes to your diet without seeking medical advice first. You could end up cutting out important food groups and nutrients which could be bad for your overall health.
A GP can make a referral to a dietitian or allergy specialist if food allergy appears to trigger flare-ups.
Medical treatment for eczema
Eczema treatments through a doctor or specialist may include:
- Moisturisers, also called emollients, to help prevent dry skin. These may include creams, ointments, lotions, shower and bath gels containing oils. Over-the-counter products may help, or a GP can recommend certain types. You may be advised to use generous amounts of the moisturisers, and to use a pump dispenser or scoop rather than hands to reduce the chance of infections.
- Steroid creams or ointments (topical corticosteroids) to help reduce swelling and redness. Examples include hydrocortisone for mild eczema, clobetasone butyrate for moderate symptoms and the higher strength mometasone. Use as directed. Overuse can cause thinning of the skin, skin colour changes and there may be some tingling. Spots ( acne) and hair growth can also be side-effects. Steroid tablets are not commonly prescribed for eczema.
- Pimecrolimus or tacrolimus topical treatments, called topical calcineurin inhibitors, may help in more sensitive areas of skin not helped by other approaches.
- Antihistamine allergy treatment for severe itchiness. Side-effects can include drowsiness with some products - but non-drowsy versions may be suitable.
- Special medicated bandages can be wrapped over eczema patches to soothe itching and allow healing.
- Phototherapy ultraviolet (UV) light therapy may help reduce inflammation.
- Immunosuppressant tablets can dial-down the effects of the body's immune system defences to help reduce symptoms.
- Alitretinoin is a specific medication that may be recommended for severe eczema of the hands.
- If eczema is causing psychological problems, sleep problems or children are being bullyied because of it, seek medical advice.
Complementary therapies for eczema
Some people with eczema find relief with complementary therapies, but evidence is lacking for approaches such as herbal remedies.
Seek medical advice before taking any complementary medicine for eczema in case it could interfere with any other medication being used.