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What Is Eczema or Atopic Dermatitis? Irritated Skin, Triggers and Treatment

Eugene writes a variety of articles on topics including health, technology, STEM, travel, cooking, home and garden.

A Distressing Skin Disorder

Eczema is a distressing condition that causes the skin to become itchy, red, dry and cracked. It afflicts children and adults alike. Multiple theories exist about the cause of the disorder, but none have been proven conclusively. It can flare at any time without any obvious causes; however, it can often be successfully treated. I have suffered from it on and off throughout my life, but thankfully in recent years it has disappeared.

Eczema is a condition that causes skin to become itchy, red, dry and cracked

What are the Symptoms of Eczema or Atopic Dermatitis?

Eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis, is a type of skin disorder or condition which manifests itself as a redness and inflammation of the epidermis or outer layer of the skin. Often the area can be covered with tiny blisters filled with lymph fluid and the underlying skin tissue can swell as fluid is released. The surface of the skin is sometimes scaly and can crack easily. Itching is a constant symptom of the disorder and this creates an "itch-scratch-itch" cycle where itchy skin is scratched, becomes raw and irritated, leading to more itchiness and then further scratching.
Eczema is non contagious since it is a disorder, not a disease. However damaged skin may become infected.

Typical Symptoms of Eczema

Typical manifestation of eczema. A red, slightly raised rash, often accompanied by tiny, fluid filled blisters.

Typical manifestation of eczema. A red, slightly raised rash, often accompanied by tiny, fluid filled blisters.

What Parts of the Body Are Affected by Eczema?

Eczema usually affects the hands, face, backs of the legs and knees, elbows and scalp.

What Causes Eczema and Immune System Disorders?

Normal skin is made up of an outer layer, middle layer and inner fat layer. One of the functions of skin is to act as a barrier to keep moisture in and harmful substances out. Normally water and oil in skin helps to maintain this function. However if you suffer from eczema, your skin doesn't produce the same quantity of fats and oils and can easily dry out, become cracked, scaly and prone to irritation. The result is an overreaction of the immune system and classic inflammation symptoms such as redness, swelling and blisters.

Soap, hand washes and detergents can exacerbate the situation by removing natural oils from the skin. Cold frosty weather may also be detrimental as air humidity is often low and this dries out skin. Other chemical irritants and known allergens can also cause a flare up of eczema.

Eczema has a genetic component and often several members of a family will have symptoms of the condition.

My Personal Experience as an Eczema Sufferer

As a baby I had eczema on my face. It then disappeared until I was about ten at which point the back of my leg became itchy. Scratching led to irritation and redness and then further itchiness. As anyone who suffers from eczema knows, this "itch-scratch-itch" vicious circle is what tends to prolong eczema and keep it active. Eventually this phase of my eczema ended and I was free of the scourge for several years.

My next experience of the condition was when I was about 14. I was cutting privet hedges and had cut and scratched my little finger. I don't know whether this was the trigger factor but from what I can remember, the finger became itchy afterwards and soon I started getting this rash on my hand which spread from finger to finger and to the back of my hand. The symptoms were classic: redness, itchiness, water blisters, swelling and skin cracking. Over the next 20 years both of my hands became affected. The severity of the condition varied, ranging from a light rash to mildly swollen uncomfortable hands. If I got anxious, the condition worsened. At night I would scratch my itchy fingers and wake up in the morning with "angry" skin.

How is Eczema Treated?

Some or all of these treatments may help reduce the severity of your eczema:


Hydro-cortisone steroidal anti-inflammatory cream is a standard treatment for acute skin inflammation and in my case it did help to reduce irritation and itchiness. These creams should be used with caution as they are well known to cause thinning of the skin if used for long periods.

Eliminating Food Products

Individuals who are prone to allergies may find that certain foods exacerbate their condition. You can try eliminating certain foods for a period and see if there is an improvement. It can be very difficult to establish a cause/effect relationship however because your eczema flare-up may disappear when you eliminate one food, but this may be just a coincidence because some other factor has changed.

Avoiding Soap and Detergents

I try to avoid washing my hands with soap or hand washes as much as possible, unless my hands are really dirty or after using the bathroom. Soap removes a lot of the natural oils from the skin, drying it out and making it prone to cracking. During the current COVID19 situation however, it's wise to wash hands regularly with antiseptic hand washes or use antiseptic gels.

Moisturizing Skin

Hand creams are essential to replace moisture if you have to wash your hands with soap/hand wash. However some contain alcohol and while I can tolerate this to some extent on my hands, I have found that many moisturizers irritate and burn the skin on my face.

On frosty days I noticed that my skin cracked and split. While I used to think that this was caused by the cold, I reckon that low air humidity on frosty days caused my skin to dry out, become inflexible and crack. Central heating can also dry out air, making skin more prone to cracking.

Avoiding Scratching

It's important to avoid scratching as this exacerbates eczema, resulting in an itch-scratch-itch cycle. Instead of scratching, try rubbing. Heat from a radiant fire or heat lamp is also quite useful for reieving itching. Small children can be provided with soft cotton mittens to prevent them scratching their skin while sleeping. Adults can also scratch in their sleep so mittens can also help. Keep finger nails short.

Avoiding Stress

Stress and anxiety seem to exacerbate the condition and cause a breakout of eczema in other parts of the body. While avoiding stressful situations is easier said than done, various techniques such as doing yoga and taking regular exercise may help.

Does UV Cure Eczema?

Around 7 years ago my eczema disappeared. I had been doing a lot of welding without wearing gloves around this time, and as you may be aware, arc welding produces lots of UV radiation. It might be just coincidence or it could be a serendipitous discovery that UV cures the condition! (By the way, I don't recommend or advise welding without gloves!). I have since discovered that UV light treatment is actually used for eczema so it might be worth investigating.

Arc welding produces UV radiation.

Arc welding produces UV radiation.

In Conclusion

My eczema appears to have gone "into remission." Mild attacks occasionally re-occur but are confined to small areas of skin on my hands or feet. Usually this is due to excessive washing and scrubbing of my hands with soap, contact with washing-up liquid and other detergents.


NHS. (n.d.). Atopic Eczema. NHS choices. Retrieved September 16, 2022, from

Watson, S. (2022, January 26). 7 types of eczema: Symptoms, causes, and pictures. Healthline. Retrieved September 16, 2022, from

Frosch PJ (2013). Textbook of Contact Dermatitis (2nd ed.). Berlin, Heidelberg: Springer Berlin Heidelberg.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

Questions & Answers

Question: How often should you bathe a six-month-old baby with eczema?

Answer: Consult with your nurse or GP. As an adult I've found it's bad to over wash with soaps or gels because they dry out skin, irritating it and causing it to flake and crack. An infant may have special requirements, so it's wise to discuss the issue with a professional.

© 2013 Eugene Brennan


Pat on December 10, 2018:

I recently, at 76 years of age, got my first breakout of eczema. Your article was very helpful. I understand eczema a bit more than I did. I will wash hand less..unless they are dirty, moisturize more and try to ease stress. Thank you for the information.

Eugene Brennan (author) from Ireland on November 16, 2018:

Thanks Bev. I rarely get it on my hands now and as a child I did have it behind one of my knees. I sometimes get a slight amount under my stainless steel watchstrap. Anything which irritates skin can trigger it off, but it's essential to avoid scratching, which is easier said than done.

Bev G from Wales, UK on November 16, 2018:

A useful article. My daughter gets a mild form, seasonally, on her inner elbows and behind her knees. It seems to be lessening as she gets older.

Anthony G on April 24, 2017:

Eczema really sucks. I've had it when I was a baby, but it went away until I turned 8 scratching is almost like second nature. I also go to school for welding ive done pretty much all processes of welding for a whole year so far. Idk about the UV rays helping when I did TIG my skin was mild normal eczema all over my body so still very bad. I use Vaseline as a moisturizer on a regular basis " constantly" my eczema does not want to go away I'm stuck in the itch scratch cycle or watever idk wat to do I monthly get ointment that helps a lil but I also used to take laser or light treatments, shots, crazy liquids nd creams if whoever reads this is a true Christian pray for me

Christine Belcher from Napoleon, Ohio on August 05, 2016:

thanks for the information! Have a great day!

Eugene Brennan (author) from Ireland on August 05, 2016:

Hi Christine, thanks for the comment. Everyone's different so it's a good idea to try different options to see what works best. In general though, soap should be avoided, especially on hands which get washed more frequently than other parts of the body. Moisturisers are very important, but avoid those which contain alcohol and can burn sensitive skin.

Christine Belcher from Napoleon, Ohio on August 04, 2016:

Hi, I have suffered from Eczema and did a lot of research. I have found chickweed and Dandelion herbs healed my eczema. I do continue to take them everyday. I am now free of Eczema!

Mariam Shams from Sheffield on January 15, 2016:

Drink pure clear honey about 2-3 tablespoons every day and you would treat eczema. Please read my blog that I have wrote about eczema

Eugene Brennan (author) from Ireland on February 10, 2014:

Hi LWhip and thanks for reading! I haven't had eczema for several years now, and I can't over stress that excess use of soap may possibly be to blame for worsening some cases of eczema. Moisturizers can also burn and irritate skin and make matters worse, so you need to experiment with different products. Scratching needs to be avoided at all costs because it further irritates the skin (Even though you really want to do it!). I have seen suggestions in articles on the subject that small children should wear mittens in bed to prevent them scratching and causing damage to their skin while asleep. I don't know how practical this would be though!

LWhip on February 10, 2014:

Hi eubug, our children have eczema in varying degrees. I've read a number of articles about eczema and I particularly liked your content and style of writing. Interesting and useful - cheers!

Eugene Brennan (author) from Ireland on June 06, 2013:

Hi Susan, thanks for dropping by and the comments! Eczema is a peculiar condition which comes and goes and often flares up when one is under stress. Moisturizing is very important, because skin can eventually crack as natural oils are removed by over washing.