Advice and Guidance: Physical conditions - man with eczema scratching wrist

Eczema is the name given to a group of inflammatory skin conditions that can affect people of all ages.

  • The number of eczema sufferers has been rising steadily for some years, and now stands at 1.3 million in the UK.
  • Eczema isn't catching (infectious).
  • The most common form of eczema is atopic eczema or atopic dermatitis. Atopic is the word used to describe allergic conditions such as asthma and hay fever.
  • Around 90% of eczema cases occur before the age of five.
  • Half of children affected by eczema will be almost clear of it by the age of six. Three-quarters will be free of it by the time they are teenagers.
  • Occasional flare-ups are always possible in adulthood. 

What are the symptoms?

  • itching
  • redness and rash – and often heat
  • dry and thickened or flaky or scaly skin

Scratching the skin increases the likelihood of the following, more severe symptoms:

  • signs of infection, such as weeping and bleeding
  • blisters
  • pain

How is it diagnosed?

GPs can diagnose eczema by examining the skin or testing the skin for infection. You may be offered allergy tests.

How can you prevent eczema?

Triggers for eczema can include:

  • pollens
  • pollution
  • dust mites
  • animal hair
  • heat, sun or cold
  • soaps and detergents
  • woollen clothing
  • bacteria on the skin
  • some foods
  • infections such as flu
  • stress
  • hormonal factors

Moisturise the skin

This is the main treatment, even when you have no flare-ups, and should be a part of everybody’s routine at least once a day with emollient (moisturising) creams or ointments.

Avoid triggers

You will learn from experience what triggers eczema in you or your child. Here are some tips:

  • Avoid scented soaps that remove the skin’s moisture.
  • Avoid artificial scents and perfumes.
  • Wear gloves when using detergents.
  • Avoid animals.
  • Use a damp cloth to keep dust down in the home.
  • Choose smooth cotton clothes not woollens.
  • Wash bedding in non-biological detergents at 60°C.
  • Keep dust mite levels in the bedroom low by airing and vacuuming mattresses regularly, using mite-proof covers, removing mats and carpets, keeping rooms aired and humidity down.
  • Reduce your stress levels. 

If you think that you or your child may have eczema you should visit your GP.