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Eczema or Atopic Dermatitis

Eczema, or atopic dermatitis, is a common allergic skin reaction often affecting the face, elbows, hands, and knees. This red, scaly, itchy rash is usually seen in young infants, but can occur later in life in individuals with personal or family histories of other allergic conditions, such as asthma or hay fever. There is no cure for the condition, but individuals can try to prevent and treat the condition when it is symptomatic.

Itching is the hallmark symptom of eczema and can sometimes be very intense. The rash that develops may appear very dry, with flaking skin, or can have small bubble like-lesions that may ooze. Open areas of affected skin may become subsequently infected by bacteria due to scratching. This secondary infection may have honey-colored discharge or crusts and should be treated with an antibiotic.

Identifying the cause of the itch is essential in relieving the dermatitis. Common triggers include allergens, overheating or sweating, cold or dry air, emotional stress, and contact with irritants such as smoke, wool, pets, and dyes and fragrances (soaps, detergents, and lotions).

Prevention and Treatment 

Here are some at-home tips for controlling reactions and preventing future ones: 

Contact Dermatitis 

  • Avoid the agent that caused the outbreak such as certain foods, oils (i.e. poison ivy), skin products, nickel, and latex 
  • Wear cotton or cotton-blend clothing 
  • Calamine lotion 
  • OTC hydrocortisone cream or ointment 

Atopic Dermatitis (Eczema) 

  • Moisturize frequently
    • Moisturizing creams or ointments should be applied after bathing and patting skin dry to damp skin and as many other times during the day as possible
    • Recommended products:
      • CeraVe
      • Eucerin
      • Lubriderm
      • Cetaphil
      • Plain white petroleum (Vaseline)
  • Use only mild soaps (i.e. Dove, Purpose, or Basis) or soap substitutes (i.e. Cetaphil, CeraVe)
    • Limit soap to only areas of the body that sweat and/or are visibly dirty
    • Do not scrub with a washcloth, as this removes the natural oil coating that protects our skin
  • Avoid long and hot showers, which dry out your skin
  • Apply cool, wet dressings to relieve itch
  • OTC antihistamines or hydrocortisone cream for itch
    • The most effective antihistamines are first generation, although they tend to cause drowsiness. An example of a first generation antihistamine is diphenhydramine (generic for Benadryl).
    • The newer (non-sedating) antihistamines are an alternative. Examples are Loratadine (Claritin), Fexofenadine (Allegra), Levocetirizine (Xyzal), and cetirizine (Zyrtec).
  • Room temperatures and humidity should be controlled to prevent skin dryness and sweating.
  • Reduce stress
  • Avoid scratchy materials/clothing

When moisturizer is not enough, or if a flare-up in the condition occurs, a steroid cream/ointment may need to be prescribed by your health care provider. Steroids reduce inflammation and are typically used episodically for 1 – 2 weeks at a time. If your rash doesn’t improve with the potency prescribed, a stronger steroid or other medications may be needed, and you should follow-up with your prescribing clinician. Some treatments may require referral to a specialist.


In an emergency go to Mount Nittany Medical Center or call 911 for an ambulance.

Test Results and Advice Nurse

Send a secure message to the advice nurse via myUHS or call 814-865-4UHS (4847) (Press 3). 


Schedule an appointment online or by calling the UHS.  

This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. This information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis, or treatment by a healthcare professional.  01/2023


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