Topical corticosteroids are the standard treatment for eczema, but many other options are available.
There's no cure for eczema, a chronic skin condition marked by rash-like symptoms.
People with atopic dermatitis — the most common type of eczema — and other forms of the condition often go through symptom-free periods followed by flare-ups, when symptoms can become severe.
Eczema mainly causes dry, itchy skin, which inevitably causes people to scratch or rub the affected area.
This can result in inflammation and even bacterial, viral, or fungal infections.
Medications and other treatments can help prevent flare-ups and reducesymptoms of eczema.
Topical corticosteroids (sometimes calledcortisone) are the standard treatment prescribed for eczema during flare-ups.
Applied directly to affected areas of the skin, these ointments, creams, or lotions may:
Tame allergic reactions
Ease irritation or soreness
Reduce itching and the desire to scratch
If topical corticosteroids are ineffective for your eczema, your doctor may prescribe a systemic corticosteroid, which is taken by mouth or injected.
Systemic corticosteroids are only recommended for short periods of time, since they affect the entire body and can cause a number of serious side effects.
Another category of medications for eczema are called topical calcineurin inhibitors (TCIs). These prescription drugs include Protopic (tacrolimus) and Elidel (pimecrolimus).
TCIs don't contain steroids. Instead, they control inflammation and reduce eczema flare-ups by suppressing the immune system.
But TCIs can only be used for short periods of time, and they come with a boxed warning about the possible risk of cancer that is associated with these drugs.
In especially severe cases, your doctor may prescribe an oral immunosuppressant, such as Neoral, Sandimmune, or Restasis (cyclosporine), Trexall or Rasuvo (methotrexate), or CellCept (mycophenolate).
These drugs carry potentially serious side effects, such as an increased risk of developing dangerous infections and cancers.
If you develop an infection on skin that's affected by eczema, your doctor will prescribe antibiotic, antiviral, or antifungal drugs to treat it, depending on the particular cause.
Antihistamines for Eczema
Your doctor may also recommend that you take certain antihistamines for eczema— such as diphenhydramine or doxylamine succinate — to help you sleep through the night.
Antihistamines may help prevent nighttime scratching, which can further damage your skin and cause infections.
Various protectant repair creams may also help ease eczema symptoms by restoring essential skin components, like ceramides, fatty acids, and cholesterol.
Light Therapy and Other Treatments
Light therapy or phototherapy — treatment with ultraviolet waves — is often effective for people with mild to moderate atopic dermatitis.
Skin improvements generally don't happen immediately after phototherapy, but rather after one to two months of treatments several times a week, according to the National Eczema Association.
Burns, increased aging of the skin, and a higher risk of skin cancer are potential side effects of light therapy, particularly if the treatment is given over a long period of time.
Wet-wrap therapy is another option for severe eczema. Sometimes given in a hospital, this treatment involves applying topical medicines (corticosteroids) and moisturizers to affected areas, which are then sealed with a wrap of wet gauze.
Home Remedies for Eczema
In addition to seeking treatment from your doctor, you may be able to take various steps at home that reduce your itching and need for medications.
These measures include:
Keeping your fingernails short, and avoiding scratching your skin
Moisturizing your skin frequently with ointments (petroleum jelly), creams, and lotions that are free of alcohol, fragrances, dyes
Using a humidifier, particularly if the air is dry
Avoiding skin irritants, such as wool or man-made fibers (wear soft cotton clothing instead), strong soaps and detergents, and situations or environments that cause sweating
Avoiding airborne allergens, such as pollen, pet dander, and dust mites
When bathing, it's also important to take short, cool or lukewarm baths. Use gentle body washes and cleansers, and avoid scrubbing or drying the skin for too long.
Apply a moisturizer immediately after drying yourself.
Natural Remedies for Eczema
In addition to the measures above, some people have used the following natural or alternative therapies for eczema:
Add oatmeal or baking soda to your bathwater
Get a massage with essential oils, such as chamomile, chickweed, licorice or thyme
Drink green tea on a regular basis
Manage stress through yoga, meditation, biofeedback, or mindfulness training
For some people with atopic dermatitis, various foods can be triggers that cause flare-ups.
An elimination diet, or food challenge — in which you cut certain foods out of your diet for a while, then slowly add them back in and monitor how your skin responds — can help you determine which foods may be triggering your eczema.
According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, some people have had eczema relief by using the following:
Talk with your doctor or dermatologist for more information about how diet might affect your eczema.
What Is Atopic Dermatitis? National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases.
Handout on Health: Atopic Dermatitis (A type of eczema); National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases.
Atopic dermatitis; MedlinePlus.
Atopic eczema - Treatment; NHS Choices.
Treatment; National Eczema Association.
Eczema (Atopic Dermatitis) Treatment; National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
Eczema; University of Maryland Medical Center.