Atopic dermatitis, also known as eczema, is a common, chronic skin condition affecting more than 31 million Americans.

Stressed woman scratching itchy arm after insect bite in a field

What is Atopic Dermatitis (Eczema)?

Atopic dermatitis, also known as eczema, inflames the skin, causing dry, itchy, bumpy rashes on hands, elbows and knees, among other areas. Because of this, eczema can be uncomfortable, distressing, and sometimes painful if the skin breaks, creating a sore. Although eczema is a common condition, it is not contagious.

There’s no cure for eczema, but there are daily steps you can take to keep it under control, such as using mild cleansers and applying topical steroids to active rashes. Learn more about eczema’s types, triggers and symptoms.

Types of Eczema

There are several types of eczema, each with its unique triggers. Eczema impacts people differently, and it’s possible to have more than one type of eczema at a time. A medical professional can determine what type of eczema you have and how to treat it. The main types of eczema include:

  • Atopic dermatitis. This is the most common type of eczema that usually begins in childhood.
  • Contact dermatitis. You may notice this type after coming in contact with an irritant (chemicals) or an allergen (poison ivy or fragrances).
  • Dyshidrotic eczema. Allergies, stress, and moist hands and feet can lead to small, firm blisters and itchy skin.
  • Neurodermatitis. This type is identified by dry, itchy, leathery patches on shoulders, wrist and the back of the neck, among other areas. You’ll need medical treatment for this type of eczema.
  • Nummular eczema. This skin condition is characterized by circular or coin-shaped patches of irritated skin that sometimes ooze clear fluid.
  • Seborrheic dermatitis. This affects the scalp and causes red, scaly patches. Sometimes, it leaves behind yellow or white flakes on the scalp.

Common Skin Allergy Symptoms

  • Patches of red, inflamed skin
  • Bumps leaking fluid when scratched
  • Blisters that crust
  • Cracked, scaly, flaky skin
  • Thick, leathery patches
  • Swelling

What Is the Main Cause of Skin Allergies? 

The exact cause of eczema remains a mystery. Atopic dermatitis is a complex chronic skin condition with several potential causes. The factors that cause eczema can vary, but here are the fours most common:

  • Genetics. Eczema can run in some families. And if it does, there’s a 75% chance that you could inherit it, according to a 2015 Hindawi study.
  • Asthma and allergies. Often, people with eczema have an overactive immune system that reacts to irritants and allergens by producing inflammation in the body. 
  • Environmental factors. There are so many different environmental elements that can cause eczema, ranging from things you can control (skin care products and laundry detergent) to factors you can’t control (air pollutants and hot weather).
Allergist examining a little boy's back for eczema

Common Skin Allergy Triggers

Eczema affects everyone a little differently, but these are some of the most common triggers that advance a flare up:

  • Emotions
  • Weather (low humidity, extreme temperatures)
  • Dry skin
  • Irritants such as smoke and pollutants
  • Certain fabrics
  • Scented laundry detergents
  • Allergens (pollen, dust mites, and pet dander)

How to Treat Skin Allergies

There’s no cure for eczema, but there are several treatment options available to manage the condition and alleviate symptoms. Remember, scratching can worsen eczema and lead to infection. If your eczema is severe or not improving with these treatments, consult your doctor for further evaluation.



These medications can help to reduce itching and swelling. You might also notice improved sleep.



In severe cases, medications that suppress the immune system may be necessary to manage eczema symptoms.


Light Therapy

Exposure to certain types of light can help to reduce inflammation and alleviate symptoms in some people with eczema. It can also improve the appearance of skin.



Regularly applying a gentle, fragrance-free moisturizer helps keep skin hydrated. Applying moisturizer after a bath helps seal in moisture.


Proper Bathing

Use lukewarm water. Hot water can be very drying and irritating to the skin. Keep baths/showers short and use mild skin cleansers. Gently pat your skin dry.  Apply a gentle, fragrance-free moisturizer immediately after bathing to help lock in moisture. This can help soothe dry, itchy skin.


Topical Corticosteroids

Apply directly to the skin to help to reduce inflammation and itching.


Tips to Stop Scratching

Use a cold compress: If your eczema is itchy, you can apply a cold compress to the affected area to help relieve the itching. Use a clean cloth soaked in cool water, wring out the excess water, and apply it to the affected area for a few minutes.

Trim your nails: Keep your nails short to prevent them from damaging your skin when you scratch.

Wear soft and breathable fabrics: Avoid wearing clothes made from rough or scratchy fabrics such as wool, which can irritate your skin and trigger eczema flare-ups.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is eczema contagious?

Can eczema be cured?

Is eczema more common in certain populations?

Can eczema affect only certain parts of the body?