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Eczema (dermatitis)

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Eczema is an inflammatory skin condition that usually appears in childhood. It is inherited and is not contagious.

Also called

Atopic Dermatitis

Affected areas

The rash tends to occur on the face and on the backs of the arms and legs in babies.

Children and adults generally experience the symptoms in the folds of the elbows, knees and ankles, and sometimes on the face, neck and head.


A dry, scaly, red and itchy rash is the main characteristic of eczema affected patches of the skin, sometimes accompanied by fluid-filled blisters. There are several variables that can influence when and where the symptoms occur and how severe they may be.

  • Scratching the affected area may cause cracking and weeping which in turn can lead to infection
  • Symptoms are changeable, and the rashes may improve or worsen on a regular basis
  • Symptoms tend to decline with age so many people are only affected by eczema during infancy and childhood. In adults, symptoms often recede during middle age. It's rare for elderly people to be affected
  • The association between atopic eczema and other allergic conditions is strong, and it can be common for sufferers and their immediate family to experience hay fever, asthma and/or food allergies as well. Whilst these issues do not always occur in childhood, they may be experienced later in life


A skin dysfunction in which the skin barrier is unable to be repaired properly is the cause of Atopic Eczema.

Genetic in nature, eczema-susceptible patients have a less than optimal content of water and oil in their skin which can consequently become dry, scaly and easily irritated.

With the skin's barrier is not operating effectively, allergens are able to penetrate the surface and trigger the immune system, causing the affected skin to become red and itchy.

Scratching can exacerbate the situation by increasing inflammation and may introduce an infectious organism (usually Staphylococcus aureus) that can cause the affected area to become infected.

Contributing factors may include:

  • Dry skin

  • Environmental allergens, such as dust mites, grass pollens and pet hair can contribute to eczema flare-ups when inhaled. Eczema sufferers commonly also have a dust mite allergy and even if they don't experience the condition initially, many sufferers become allergic to them later

  • Some substances including perfume and synthetic or woollen fibres can irritate the skin of those prone to eczema

  • Food allergies aren't a cause of eczema, but may trigger or aggravate the condition, especially in children. Dairy products, soy protein, seafood, nuts and seeds, eggs, and wheat are the foods most associated with the condition. These allergies, in most cases, are resolved in later childhood

  • Over-heating of the body can be a factor as can abrupt changes in temperature or humidity

  • Stress can also cause or aggravate an eczema outbreak

Diet and lifestyle

  • Because of eczema sufferers' susceptibility to other allergic conditions (such as hay fever and asthma) professional treatment to support the integrity of the skin’s barrier and minimise the introduction of potential allergens through the skin is recommended. This may also help to reduce the risk of further allergic health problems
  • Consult your doctor to find out if ultraviolet light therapy, corticosteroids and antibiotics may be needed to help manage eczema
  • Consult with your healthcare professional to identify any environmental, dietary or other allergens that may be contributing to your skin problem. Skin prick and blood tests, or the use of an exclusion diet followed by food challenges are all methods used to identify the allergens. Please note that allowing children to undergo an exclusion and challenge diet without medical supervision is not appropriate and should be avoided
  • When considering dietary restrictions due to allergens, make sure all nutritional requirements are met. It is best to consult a healthcare professional to assist you with making these decisions
  • Avoid animal fats and increase your consumption of fish and other omega-3 rich foods like flaxseeds and walnuts. This may help your body maintain an optimal balance of essential fatty acids
  • Bathe in lukewarm water using hypoallergenic soap-free cleansers as regular soap and hot water may aggravate your eczema. When towelling off after your bath, pat your skin dry; try not to rub it
  • Apply thick, hypoallergenic moisturising cream or lotion immediately after bathing to keep your skin moist and supple. You should also use the same moisturisers after swimming
  • Swimming in chlorinated pools may exacerbate eczema but swimming in the sea may improve your symptoms. In both instances it is important to avoid getting sunburnt or over-heated as this may aggravate the condition
  • Getting over-heated in other circumstances can be detrimental too as can abrupt changes in body-temperature. Wear several layers of light clothing so you can remain comfortable as the temperature changes throughout the day and use several light cotton blankets for similar temperature control at night. It's also best not to keep your home too warm in winter.
  • Exercising in hot conditions, with accompanying temperature change and perspiration, may trigger your eczema or cause itchiness
  • Exposing the skin to chemicals of any kind should be avoided. It is best to choose hypoallergenic laundry detergents and wear gloves when using chemicals or detergent (wear cotton gloves inside the rubber ones). Make-up and cosmetics should be specially formulated to be hypoallergenic, but even then, keep the face make-up free as often as possible. It is recommended to perform a patch test on an inconspicuous area of your skin before using new products
  • Keep the home well-ventilated and clean to help reduce the likelihood of mould developing. Vacuum frequently and change bedding regularly, this will help keep the home free of irritants such as dust mites and animal hair
  • Good personal hygiene will help lessen the risk of infection and the likelihood of scratching skin affected by eczema. Wearing gloves or mittens (especially at night time) may help to prevent children from scratching and damaging the skin. Keep fingernails closely clipped so that any scratching is less likely to damage the skin
  • Stress related flare-ups can be avoided by taking active steps to help you cope better. It is worth considering strategies including meditation, yoga, regular (but not excessive) exercise, and cognitive behaviour therapy

Important notes

  • If your or your child's eczema becomes infected, consult your doctor, as antibiotics may be required. Rashes that are weeping or crusted, or that don't respond to normal treatment are symptoms to watch out for. It is also not uncommon for fatigue, a fever and a general sense of feeling unwell to occur.

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Hi I'm 13 years old and I have eczema all over my body and I have used just about every single cream/ointment there is can you please help me ?
Hi there
I'm 36 years old male i got Eczema on my hands.i try so many cream nothing works.
what is normal treatment?
always put on vaseline. i was scared if this was a eczema was dangerous thanks to this website i can take a breath.
Anonymous 03 May 2015
Dear Avila,
Thank you for your post.
I’m sorry to hear that Scarlett is experiencing such severe eczema.
If you have already tried all of the above recommendations, I think the best thing to do would be to take her to a naturopath or integrative doctor in a private consultation. A naturopath or integrative doctor in clinic can take a full case & medical history, and undertake any necessary assessments, looking at physical, dietary, and emotional factors to help develop an individualised treatment plan.
You may be able to find a naturopath or complementary health-care professional via the following websites:
I hope this information is of help to you and can guide you to the right help for your daughter’s eczema.
Kind regards,
Charmaine 30 Sep 2014
many thanks as Scarlett is only 6 months old I am in need of a cream and herbal treatment to assist as I have done everything as above can you please advise some
Anonymous 29 Sep 2014
Hi Marj,
I’m sorry to hear about your grand-daughter’s discomfort. As mentioned in the article above, she is at greater risk of infection while her toes are already cracked and have peeling skin. Vitamin E creams or herbal ointments containing calendula may assist the healing process, but it is important that the cause of this symptom is determined and addressed. This could be allergy-related, it could be a deficiency in essential fatty acids, or hereditary. If this is the only area of her body which is affected, it may even be caused by a fungal infection such as ‘Athlete’s foot’. In that case, topical application of tea tree cream or bathing the toes in tea tree oil may help useful. Please feel free to call the Blackmores Advisory line on 1800 803 760 to discuss this further with a naturopath.
All the best, Leanne (a Blackmores naturopath)
My 11 year old grandaughter has really bad eczema around her toes spreading to the 'ball' of her feet Seems to have started around her toes.The skin has all peeled off and now are raw patches. it is very sore & now is cracking! She has had it previously but this looks worse.
Marj (Grandma)
Anonymous 02 Dec 2013