Your skin used to be soft and smooth, but now it's itchy and scaly. It's gotten so bad that you're wearing long sleeves every time you go out, even in the summer. There's a chance you could have eczema, and if you do, there are treatments to smooth out your skin and get you back into t-shirts again.
Eczema is like an allergic reaction on your skin. Instead of your eyes watering or your nose running, your skin swells up in response to an allergy trigger. A lot of people who have eczema also have allergies to pollen, mold, animal fur, dust, or sensitivities to products they use around the house. It could be that the detergent you're using or the perfume you're wearing is leaving its mark on your skin.
To know if you have eczema, when you look at your skin, you'll see redness, dryness and maybe swelling, and blisters that may ooze or crust over. In babies and young kids, you'll see these sores mainly on the face, scalp, hands, and feet. In older kids and adults, the spots are typically on the insides of the knees and elbows, as well as on the neck, hands, and feet. But really, if you're having a bad eczema flare-up, you might see red patches on any part of your body.
Eczema patches get so itchy that you'll probably be tempted to scratch at them. After a lot of scratching, they'll get red, thick, and irritated.
Your doctor should be able to tell that you have eczema just by looking at your skin. If allergies are causing your eczema, you may need allergy tests to find out just what's setting off your skin reaction.
To treat Eczema, you can apply creams or lotions to soothe and moisturize your skin. Just pick a product that's free from dyes and scents, which could irritate your skin even more. Your doctor can also prescribe a steroid cream or ointment to relieve the swelling. Medicines called antihistamines can calm the reaction that's causing your eczema and relieve the itchiness. There are a number of other eczema treatments if these don't work for you.
Eczema is a chronic condition. Although kids usually outgrow it by age 5 or 6, most adults tend to get stuck with it for a long time. When you've got an eczema flare-up it will be itchy, but try not to scratch. You could give yourself an infection, or leave your skin permanently scarred. Instead, keep your skin moisturized and avoid whatever trigger is causing your eczema.
Review Date: 10/24/2016
Reviewed By: David L. Swanson, MD, Vice Chair of Medical Dermatology, Associate Professor of Dermatology, Mayo Medical School, Scottsdale, AZ. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.