Symptoms of eczema: how to spot them
Eczema is a term for several conditions that cause itching, inflammation, or rash on the skin. It is a common disorder, with more than 31 million Americans is experiencing it, according to the National Eczema Association (NEA).
Symptoms of eczema can vary and not be the same for everyone. There may even be different types of eczema on different parts of your body at different times.
Most of the information available on eczema relates to how the symptoms appear on fair 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 the affected areas. Hyperpigmentation occurs when the skin becomes darker than usual.
On the other hand, inflammation can sometimes cause depigmentation on dark skin. This is when the skin loses its color and becomes lighter than usual.
Being aware of the symptoms can help you decide if you need to see a doctor for a definitive diagnosis and treatment.
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:
- dry skin
- inflamed or discolored skin
- pigment changes in dark skin
- tough skin
- oozing or crusting
Eczema is different in babies and toddlers than it is in older children and adults. In babies 6 months and younger, the skin with eczema will look red and a little damp or oozing.
Children with dark skin may have changes in pigmentation or changes in skin color that may appear purple or gray. Their skin can also be very itchy.
Between 6 and 12 months, eczema usually forms on areas of the body that babies use for crawling. It may appear red and inflamed. If it is infected, it may have a yellow scab on it.
In toddlers under 5, eczema usually affects the face. It may appear red and bumpy. They may also appear scaly and dry, or you may notice deep wrinkles on their skin.
Children over 5 years old may have eczema that is red and itchy or looks like a rash. It can also look like permanent goosebumps and be thicker. On dark skin, the thickening can be hyperpigmented.
Skin problems can be a symptom of a different condition, so seeing a dermatologist can help determine if the cause is eczema or something else.
Certain areas of the body are more likely to be affected by eczema than others. This may change depending on your age.
Where is eczema in babies?
In babies, eczema is often found on the scalp and face, especially the cheeks. It is most often found on the head, but it can be found anywhere. It is usually not in the diaper area.
A baby may rub their face or head on the carpet or on their sheets to scratch the itchy skin. This can further irritate the skin and lead to infection.
When they start to crawl, eczema may be more common on the elbows or knees. This is because these are areas that tend to rub together when crawling.
In toddlers, eczema can often be seen on the face, around the mouth, or on the eyelids. It can also be on the wrists, elbow creases and knees.
Where is eczema in children?
In older children, eczema usually appears:
- in the bends of the elbows and knees
- on their hands
- behind their ears
- on the 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:
- inside elbows and back knees
- head (especially cheeks and scalp)
The diagnosis of eczema can sometimes be tricky.
Other skin conditions can look like eczema, but a dermatologist can tell the difference. If there is a case where the doctor is not entirely sure, a new genetic test can help them make the correct diagnosis.
The underlying cause of the two conditions is different:
- Psoriasis is an autoimmune disease. This means that the immune system is not working as it should and the skin cells are growing too quickly and accumulating.
- Eczema is more complicated and unknown. Genetic and environmental factors may be involved.
The itchiness of psoriasis tends to be mild, while the itchiness associated with eczema can be severe.
In older people, eczema is usually located on the back of the knees and on the inside of the elbows. Psoriasis is often found on the scalp, elbows, knees, buttocks, and face.
Eczema is more common than psoriasis in children.
Aside from psoriasis, other skin conditions can look like eczema, but they are not. Knowing the underlying cause and correctly identifying the disease is the best way to get proper treatment.
A dermatologist will be able to diagnose the disease based on:
- your reported symptoms
- what they can see visually
- all the tests they perform
Other conditions that can resemble eczema include:
There is no cure for eczema, but it can be treated and managed. By working with a dermatologist or allergist, you can help lower your risk of flare-ups, minimize symptoms, and keep your skin healthy.
The treatment is based on three concepts, depending on the NEA:
- know the eczema triggers in order to avoid them
- create a daily bath and hydration regimen
- using over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription drugs as prescribed or as needed
There isn’t just one way to treat eczema. Specific treatment plans may 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.
The most important thing for babies, children and adults is to have a regular bathing and hydration routine. This helps keep water in your skin and control breakouts. Your doctor can provide you with techniques depending on your specific situation.
Knowing what triggers eczema flare-ups can help you stay away from anything that might be causing a flare-up or irritation.
Medications can be over the counter or prescription, depending on the type and severity of your eczema.
Over-the-counter medications can include:
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 aged 6 years and older
For children, according to
Even without a cure, there are a number of ways you can treat eczema. If one treatment doesn’t work, talk to your doctor about trying another treatment.
More and more research is being done on possible treatments, which is promising. By sticking to treatment and making 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 the symptoms of eczema, so it’s always a good idea to see a dermatologist for an accurate diagnosis.
Once a correct diagnosis is made, they will determine which treatment is best for you.