Eczema, which is also called dermatitis, is a term used to describe a group of inflamed, itchy skin conditions that typically present as dry, red, swollen areas on various parts of the body. About 15 million people in the United States suffer from some form of eczema including 10-20 percent of infants. There is no single cause for eczema but it is felt to be related to an overactive immune system in the presence of trigger factors, many times in individuals susceptible to other allergic tendencies including asthma, allergic rhinitis, environmental allergies, and food allergies.
The most critical step in treating eczema is controlling the itch and preventing scratching. Moisturizing creams and lotions, compresses, and nonprescription corticosteroid creams and ointments can be helpful. For more severe cases, physicians can prescribe stronger corticosteroid creams and ointments, nonsteroidal creams and ointments, antibiotics to treat infections, or antihistamines. Phototherapy can help reduce the itch and rash, and tar treatments may be helpful though messy. For the most severe cases, oral medications are available. The mainstay of any treatment plan is a basic skin care routine consisting of reinforcing the skin's barrier function and minimizing itch.