Synonyms: Atopic eczema, Atopic dermatitis

Medical Specialties: Allergy/immunology, Dermatology

Clinical Definition

Eczema is a chronic or recurrent inflammation of the skin, producing dryness, itchiness and flakiness manifesting as red to brownish patches; small raised bumps; and cracked, scaly or raw and inflamed skin. It may be accompanied by – or linked to – allergies, asthma or hay fever. 

In Our Own Words

“Eczema” and “dermatitis” are often used interchangeably, yet when “eczema” is used alone, it usually means atopic eczema. Eczema or atopic dermatitis is a chronic skin condition that may appear anywhere on the skin. In infants, it can be on the cheeks and any exposed part of the arms and legs, and in older children, it is often found in the flexural creases (i.e., the skin that bends behind the knees, in front of the elbows). Eczema most often begins in infancy or early childhood and can be sustained through adulthood.


Low humidity and stress are well-known triggers.  Soaps, perfumes and environmental irritants can also aggravate this condition. Eczema can be controlled, but not cured. The general approach includes moisturizing to maintain good skin hydration; avoiding triggers; and using topical corticosteroids and antibiotics when needed.


Interestingly, though eczema is linked to allergies and asthma, it is not caused by an allergy, as was previously believed. It now appears people with eczema have genetic differences that make it more difficult for their skin to keep up as strong as a barrier against the environment, compared to people without eczema.

Relevant Conditions
Common Types
  • Infantile
  • Toddler
  • Hand
Side Effects
  • Redness, irritation, itchiness and inflammation
  • Small, raised bumps or larger patches
  • Scaly and crusty skin patches
Share this article
  • National Eczema Association. “All About Atopic Dermatitis.” Accessed September 2013.
  • Harvard Health Publications. “Medical Dictionary of Health Terms.” Accessed August 2013.
  • Cleveland Clinic. “Understanding Eczema.” Accessed August 2013.
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