Recognizing the Symptoms of Eczema
Eczema is a term for multiple conditions that cause itching, inflammation, or a rash-like occurrence on the skin. It is a common disorder, with over 31 million Americans experiencing it, according to the National Eczema Association (NEA).
The symptoms of eczema can vary and may not be the same for everyone. There can even be different kinds of eczema on different parts of your body at various times.
Much of the information available about eczema is about how the symptoms appear on light skin. But eczema on dark skin can look different.
In people with black or brown skin, scratching the itchy skin can also lead to hyperpigmentation in affected areas. Hyperpigmentation is when the skin becomes darker than usual.
Other the other hand, inflammation can sometimes cause depigmentation on dark skin. This is when the skin loses color and becomes lighter than usual.
Being aware of the symptoms can help you determine if you need to see a doctor for a definitive diagnosis and any treatment.
What are the symptoms of eczema in adults?
The hallmark of eczema is itchy and inflamed skin. Several different skin conditions fall under the category of eczema, so other symptoms may be present as well.
These symptoms can include:
inflamed or discolored skin
pigment changes in dark skin
oozing or crusting
What are the symptoms of eczema in babies?
Eczema looks different in babies and toddlers than in older children and adults. In babies 6 months and younger, the skin with eczema will look red and a little wet or oozy.
Children with dark skin may have pigmentation changes or changes in skin color that may look purple or gray. Their skin may also be very itchy.
Between 6 and 12 months, eczema typically forms on areas of the body that babies use for crawling. It can look red and inflamed. If infected, it may have a yellow crust on it.
What are the symptoms of eczema in older children?
In toddlers under age 5, eczema usually affects the face. It can look red and bumpy. It can look also scaly and dry, or you may notice deep lines on their skin.
Children over 5 years old may have eczema that is red and itchy or rash-looking. It may also look like permanent goosebumps and be thicker. On dark skin, the thickening may be hyperpigmented.
Skin concerns may be a symptom of a different condition, so seeing a dermatologist can help determine whether the cause is eczema or something else.
Where is the most common place you may see symptoms?
Certain areas of the body are more likely to be affected by eczema than others. This can change, depending on your age.
Where is eczema on babies?
In babies, eczema is often found on the scalp and face, particularly the cheeks. It’s most often found on the head, but it can be found anywhere. It is not typically in the diaper area.
A baby may rub their face or head on the carpet or their sheets to scratch the itchy skin. This can further irritate the skin and lead to infection.
As they start to crawl, eczema may be more frequently seen on their elbows or knees. This is because these are areas that are prone to rubbing as they crawl.
In toddlers, eczema may often be seen on their face, around their mouth, or on their eyelids. It may also be on wrists, elbow creases, and knees.
Where is eczema on children?
In older children, eczema typically appears:
in their elbow and knee folds
on their hands
behind their ears
on their feet or scalp
Sometimes other skin conditions can affect these areas, so it is best to see a doctor for a definitive diagnosis.
Where is eczema in adults?
In adults, common places for eczema include:
inner elbows and backs of knees
head (especially cheeks and scalp)
What’s the difference between eczema and psoriasis?
Diagnosing eczema can be tricky sometimes.
Other skin conditions can look like eczema, but a dermatologist can tell the difference. If there is a case where the doctor isn’t quite sure, a new genetic test can help them make the appropriate diagnosis.
The underlying cause of the two conditions is different:
Psoriasis is an autoimmune condition. This means the immune system is not working as it should and skin cells grow too fast, piling up.
Eczema is more complicated and unknown. Both genetic and environmental factors may be involved.
Psoriasis itching tends to be on the mild side, whereas the itching associated with eczema can be intense.
In older adults, eczema is usually on the backs of the knees and inside of the elbows. Psoriasis is often found on the scalp, elbows, knees, buttocks, and face.
Eczema is more common than psoriasis in children.
What other conditions may look like eczema?
Aside from psoriasis, other skin conditions can look like eczema but aren’t. Knowing the underlying cause and identifying the condition correctly is the best way to get appropriate treatment.
A dermatologist will be able to diagnose the condition based on:
your reported symptoms
what they can visually see
any tests they conduct
Other conditions that may look similar to eczema include:
cutaneous T-cell lymphoma
What is the treatment for eczema?
There is no cure for eczema, but it can be treated and managed. By working with a dermatologist or allergist, you can help reduce your chances of flare-ups, minimize symptoms, and keep your skin healthy.
Treatment is based on three concepts, according to the NEA:
knowing eczema triggers in order to avoid them
creating a daily bathing and moisturizing regimen
using over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription medication as prescribed or as needed
There is no one way to treat eczema. Specific treatment plans can take into account the type of eczema you have, your age, and the severity of the condition. What works for one person may not work for another.
Most important for babies, children, and adults alike is to have a regular bathing and moisturizing routine. This helps keep water in your skin and control flares. Your doctor can provide techniques based on your specific situation.
Knowing what triggers eczema flares can help you stay away from anything that would cause a flare-up or irritation.
Medication may be OTC or prescription, depending on the type and severity of your eczema.
OTC medications can include:
petroleum jelly (ask a doctor before using on a child to make sure it’s safe)
Prescription treatments can include:
topical medications applied to the skin
phototherapy (light therapy)
immunosuppressants, which are not FDA-approved but are often prescribed off-label for moderate to severe eczema
biologic drugs, which target only specific parts of the immune system and should only be used in people ages 6 and up
For children, according to 2020 research, dietary guidelines may be put in place if there is a food-related allergy that triggers eczema. If the outbreaks are stress-related, counseling may be helpful.
What is the outlook for people with eczema?
Even without a cure, you can treat eczema in a variety of ways. If one treatment doesn’t work, talk with your doctor about trying another treatment.
More and more research is being done on possible treatments, which is promising. With treatment adherence and lifestyle changes, you can help minimize symptoms of eczema and control skin irritation.
Symptoms of eczema can vary, depending on the type of eczema and your age.
Sometimes other skin conditions can mimic symptoms of eczema, so it’s always a good idea to see a dermatologist to get an accurate diagnosis.
Once a correct diagnosis is made, it will determine which treatment may work best for you.