What is eczema? 

Eczema is a chronic skin condition that makes the skin red, dry, itchy, and cracked. Atopic dermatitis is the most common type of eczema. Also known as allergic eczema or atopic eczema, it affects approximately 20 percent of children and up to 3 percent of the adult population worldwide.It often develops in connection with other conditions, such as  asthma and seasonal allergies. 

In 90 percent of patients with food allergies plus eczema, their symptoms are triggered by milk, egg, peanut, wheat, soy, shrimp, and/or fish.2 

What causes eczema?

Eczema has several aggravating factors and triggers, such as heat, perspiration, emotional stress, and exposure to certain chemicals, cigarette smoke, and cleaning solutions.3  There are also common allergens that may cause symptoms, including:3  

  • Animal dander 
  • Egg 
  • Fish 
  • Dust mites 
  • Milk
  • Peanut
  • Pollen 
  • Shellfish 
  • Soy
  • Tree nuts
  • Wheat

How do you know if eczema is caused or made worse by allergies? Learn more about the benefits of blood testing

Eczema Symptoms

Anyone at any age can experience symptoms of eczema, but no two people experience eczema the same way. It can comprise small or large patches (flare-ups) on any area of the body, but it usually starts on the face in infants and is often found in skin creases such as the back of the knees and inside of the elbows.  

Mild symptoms include: 

  • Dry skin 
  • Itchy skin 
  • Rash  

Severe symptoms may include pain, inflammation, cracking, and bleeding. You might have all of these symptoms or only a few, and you might have some flare-ups, or your symptoms could go away entirely.4

 Eczema may also have psychological impacts: 

  • Children with allergic eczema have a worse quality of life than children with asthma, diabetes, or epilepsy.5
  • Children with allergic eczema may also miss days of school, skip activities, and feel social isolation.6

Children suffering from eczema and their parents can lose up to two hours of sleep per night.7  Eczema is many things—frustrating, painful, annoying, stressful, exhausting—but it is not contagious.  

Eczema Treatment

There is no cure for eczema, but there are treatments.4  Depending on the individual’s age and eczema severity,  these treatments include over-the-counter (OTC) remedies, prescription topical medications, phototherapy, immunosuppressants, and biologic drugs.4

 For most types of eczema, managing flares comes down to these basics:4 

  • Know your triggers so that you can avoid exposure. 
  • Implement a daily bathing and moisturizing routine. 
  • Use OTC and prescription medications consistently and as prescribed. 

Frequently Asked Questions About Eczema

Allergic disease may undergo dynamic changes over time, and the term "allergy march" is often used to describe this characteristic disease progression. Because allergies change over time, many people will outgrow allergies they’ve had and develop new ones. The allergy march, also called the allergic march or atopic march, is a specific way that allergy symptoms often progress in children.8

Allergic eczema is often the first step of the allergy march.9 Children with early onset eczema are three times more likely to develop allergen sensitization by the age of two.10 As the march continues, children are at increased risk to develop allergic rhinitis or asthma later in life.10-13 

Recently, it has been further established via clinical and physiological means that psychological stress is a significant contributor to atopic dermatitis.14  In addition to identifying allergic triggers, it’s also important to recognize the triggers behind physiological and psychological stress to help manage eczema symptoms. 

Eczema and psoriasis are two different diseases; however, sometimes it may be hard to tell the difference between the two conditions. Here are a few key differences: 

  • Psoriasis causes well-defined, thick, red, scaly patches, commonly in areas such as the elbows and knees. It is common to see psoriasis on the face, buttocks, and/or scalp of a child. You’ll also commonly see thick patches of skin with overlying redness.15 
  • Eczema tends to appear in the crooks of the knees and the elbows.15
  • Children who have psoriasis tend to have mild itching. With eczema, the itching can be intense.15 

Who should be tested?

With up to 70 percent of infants and young children with eczema having an underlying allergy that contributes to disease severity, healthcare providers can use specific IgE testing to enhance the diagnostic process and pinpoint those allergens that may be triggering eczema symptoms.16,17 The specific information gleaned from test results can also be used to develop a personalized treatment plan.  

Tools for Understanding Allergies


Track allergy symptoms and prepare for a visit with a healthcare provider.

Learn about specific allergens, including common symptoms, management, and relief. 

Are you a healthcare provider? Get comprehensive information on hundreds of whole allergens and allergen components.

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  2. Bergmann MM, et al. J Allergy Clin Immunol Pract. 2013;1:22-8.  
  3. NHS Eczema; www.nhs.uk/conditions/eczema-(atopic)/pages/causes.aspx; last accessed October 2017.  
  4. National Eczema Association, “What is Eczema?” https://nationaleczema.org/eczema/ (accessed August 25, 2021).  
  5. Beattie PE, et al. Br J Dermatol. 2006;155:145-51.  
  6. Chamlin SL, et al. Pediatrics. 2004;114:607-11.  
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  11. Van Der Hulst AE, Klip H, Brand PL. Risk of developing asthma in young children with atopic eczema: a systematic review. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2007;120(3):565-569.    
  12. Gustafsson D, Sjöberg O, Foucard Tet al. Development of allergies and asthma in infants and young children with atopic dermatitis―a prospective follow-up to 7 years of age. Allergy. 2000;55(3):240-245.    
  13. Kulig M,  Bergmann R, Tacke U, et al. Long-lasting sensitization to food during the first two years precedes allergic airway disease. The MAS Study Group, Germany. Pediatr Allergy Immunol.1998;9(2):61-67  
  14. Suárez, Andrea L et al. “Psychoneuroimmunology of psychological stress and atopic dermatitis: pathophysiologic and therapeutic updates.” Acta dermato-venereologica vol. 92,1 (2012): 7-15. doi:10.2340/00015555-1188.  
  15. American Academy of Dermatology Association (AAD), “What the difference between eczema and psoriasis?” https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/eczema/childhood/child-have/difference-psoriasis (accessed August 26, 2021).   
  16. Spergel JM. Am J Clin Dermatol. 2008;9:233-44.  
  17. Eigenmann PA, et al. Prevalence of IgE-mediated food allergy among children with atopic dermatitis. Pediatrics. 1998;101:E8.