Eczema is a condition that causes the skin to become itchy and inflamed. A rash develops that may appear purple, brown or grey in darker skin tones and red in lighter skin tones. It is possible to have more than one type of eczema – each form of eczema has its own set of triggers and treatment requirements.1a,b

Learn here all about eczema, and how to best manage your symptoms.

Back to top

What is eczema?


Image: Atopic dermatitis (eczema)2a

There are many different types of eczema, by far the most common being atopic dermatitis.3a

  • Eczema is a common allergic skin condition, and half of patients with moderate to severe eczema also suffer from asthma, hay fever, and food allergies.2b,3b
  • Eczema usually begins in early childhood before the age of 5 and can persist into adolescence and adulthood.2c,3c
  • There is no cure for eczema – treatments can relieve symptoms and help prevent flare-ups.4a
Back to top

What are the symptoms?

  • Dry skin
  • Itchy skin
  • Thickened, cracked and scaly skin
  • Raw, sensitive and swollen skin from scratching
Back to top

Where on the body does eczema occur?

Children and infants2d

  • scalp
  • knees
  • elbows
  • cheeks


  • creases of the wrists
  • elbows
  • knees
  • ankles
  • face and neck

Itch-scratch cycle2e

  • rubbing or scratching the skin causes more irritation, and therefore, additional itching.
Back to top

What causes eczema?

When the skin is healthy, it performs an especially important function – it retains moisture and acts as a barrier to protect you from bacteria, irritants and allergens.4c

Eczema is related to a gene variation that affects the skin’s ability to function in this protective manner is compromised; this allows the skin to be affected by various environmental factors, irritants and allergens.4c

Eczema is thought to be caused by a “leaky” skin barrier. This means water escapes leaving the skin dry. Some people have this leaky skin gene passed down from parents or it is driven by factors in the environment.2h

Eczema “flares” may be caused by:

  • pollen
  • house dust mite
  • animal dander
  • detergents
  • soaps


Back to top

Who suffers from eczema?

Children and adults with a family history of eczema, allergies or asthma have increased risk of suffering from eczema during childhood and into adulthood.4d

People with eczema can often also suffer from the following problems:4e

Back to top


It is important to try to identify and avoid the triggers that irritate the skin and worsen eczema symptoms. Triggers that can worsen the skin reaction include:2f

  • Sweat
  • Stress
  • Obesity
  • Soaps
  • Detergents, chemicals
  • Dust
  • Pollen
  • Smoke
  • Fragrances
  • Certain fabrics
  • Certain foods (eggs, milk, soy and wheat)
Back to top

Treating eczema

The ultimate goal of treatment is to improve quality of life and ensure participation in school, work, sport and social activities.2g

There are 3 basic principles for the effective management of eczema are:4a

When there is a lot of redness and swelling, applying creams or ointments that help reduce the inflammation are useful. Topical creams, ointments and lotions are applied directly to the skin.2i

Back to top

Topical steroids

  • Steroids are anti-inflammatory medications used on the red and swollen areas of the rash2j
  • Topical steroids come in different strengths2j
  • A stronger or more potent steroid may clear the rash quicker but cannot be used in senstive areas like the face or underarms2j
  • Topical steroid preparations that are available over the counter are less potent those requiring a prescription.2j
  • Topical steroids are usually used as a first option2j
Back to top

Other treatment options include:

  • Immune modulating creams2k
  • Antihistamines tablets and syrups (not creams)2l
  • Wet wraps2m
  • Antibiotics if skin is infected2m
  • Allergy injections2n
  • Other stress-relieving therapies2m

Speak to your healthcare professional to help you identify which type of eczema you may have and how best to treat and prevent flare-ups.2o

Medical References

  1. National Eczema Association. An Overview of the Different Types of Eczema. Available online at: Accessed October 2020.
  2. American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology (AAAI) Eczema (Atopic Dermatitis) Overview [28 September 2019]. Available at: Accessed October 2020.
  3. National Eczema Association. Types of Eczema: Atopic Dermatitis. Available online at: Accessed October 2020.
  4. Atopic Dermatitis (Eczema). Could not find a date of publication on reference provided.
Mental Health
Infant Health

For more health information

Click on the body area you want to know more about. Select a related health topic from the menu

Select a body area


Diabetes – Insulin injection techniques

Correct insulin injection technique does not cause discomfort


Diabetes – what is HbA1c and how often should you check it?

Your doctor will advise how often you need an HbA1c test


Diabetes – why self-testing is so important

Testing also indicates how your blood sugar levels are impacted by your lifestyle and biology


Diabetes – Understanding blood glucose readings

Glucose is the simple sugar that makes up sugary and starchy (carbohydrate) foods


Diabetes – top ten tips to get on track to health

Health tips