Atopic eczema treatments

Find out more about how to help manage symptoms

Atopic eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis, is a common skin condition that causes itching, redness and dry skin. It’s thought to be caused (or triggered) by a number of things, including irritants such as soaps and detergents, allergies and environmental factors. It also has a genetic basis and can often run in families.

How to treat atopic eczema

While there’s no cure for atopic eczema, there are a number of ways to help ease and manage the symptoms. Learn more about them below.

Emollients – these are moisturisers that you apply directly to the skin. They can help to soothe irritation and itching and help with dry or scaly patches of skin. Some have ingredients that can specifically help reduce itching.

There are several types of emollients that can be used to help treat atopic eczema. These include:

• Lotions – these are thin and good for damaged skin (like weeping eczema), but aren’t the most moisturising option

• Creams – the skin absorbs them quickly and they’re usually not very greasy, making them good for everyday use

• Ointments – thick and greasy, these are best for very dry or hard skin, as they will provide a lot of moisture. They’re ideal to use at night due to their thickness, but should not be used on weeping eczema

• Soap substitutes – some emollients can be used in place of regular shower gels or wash products, which can tend to dry out the skin and aggravate eczema symptoms

• Bath oils – added to a warm bath, the oil forms a protective layer on the skin which helps to lock in moisture. You should soak in the bath for a minimum of 10 minutes for the best effect

Any leave-on emollients are best applied immediately after taking a shower or bath, as this is when your skin needs moisture the most so it will absorb more effectively.

Antihistamines – taken orally, these can help to reduce the itching, though some may cause drowsiness.

Topical corticosteroids – these steroids can come as creams, ointments, lotions, gels or mousses, and are available in different strengths. They’re applied directly to the skin and can help reduce inflammation and ease irritation.

Self-care for atopic eczema

As well as over-the-counter or prescribed treatments, there are some things you can do yourself to help manage your symptoms.

• Try to avoid triggers – if you know what tends to trigger your flare-ups, trying to avoid them may prevent or reduce the severity of your symptoms. For example, avoid wearing certain fabrics and using certain wash products, or keep yourself cool if heat aggravates your eczema

• Try to avoid scratching – while eczema can be very itchy, scratching the skin can cause damage and worsen your symptoms. It’s a good idea to keep your fingernails short to minimise damage, or try rubbing the skin rather than scratching it

• Use gentle cleansers when washing or bathing – harsher products can irritate your skin

• Moisturise often – this will help to reduce water loss and help your skin to heal

• Changes to your diet – some foods, such as cows’ milk and eggs, can cause flare-ups, so avoiding or reducing your intake of these may help your symptoms. You should always speak to your GP before making any dietary changes