What is eczema?

Eczema causes your child’s skin to get bumpy, dry, irritated, itchy and red. This bothersome condition can affect children of all ages. UW Health Kids specialists treat and manage eczema so your child can enjoy a lifetime of healthy skin.

Types and causes

Learn how eczema triggers activate your child’s immune response

Eczema refers to a group of conditions that make the skin dry, itchy and inflamed. Eczema is not contagious, but it does look like something to avoid touching.

While eczema often appears in infancy, many children see improvement by age 5. While some children outgrow their eczema entirely, others see it return, especially during puberty.

There are many kinds of eczema. The most common among children and teens include:

  • Atopic dermatitis (skin inflammation caused by triggers)

  • Contact dermatitis (allergic reaction)

  • Dyshidrotic eczema (itchy blisters on hands, feet, fingers, toes)

  • Neurodermatitis (intense itchy patches in one or two spots)

  • Seborrheic dermatitis (cradle cap)

Eczema appears when the body’s immune system overreacts to an allergy. There are many triggers and each child reacts differently.

Some common eczema triggers include:

  • Animal dander

  • Dust

  • Food allergies

  • Genetics

  • Household cleaners

  • Laundry detergent

  • Other allergies

  • Pollen

  • Scented lotions

Symptoms and diagnosis

Signs of eczema vary by age

We partner with you to understand your child’s eczema symptoms.

Eczema appears on your child’s skin. The itchy patches can make your child feel uncomfortable and affect their self-esteem.

Symptoms include:

  • Bumps, some that leak fluid

  • Dry, itchy skin

  • Inflammation

  • Redness

  • Scales

Symptoms can come and go and they may be worse at night.

Bothersome at any age, eczema looks different at different stages of childhood. In infants, eczema:

  • Appears on the cheeks, forehead or scalp

  • May spread to the elbows, knees or torso

In older children and teens, eczema:

  • Can be dark, scarred and thick from scratching

  • Forms behind the knees, in the elbows, on the neck, inner ankles and wrists

  • Looks scaly and dry

How we diagnose eczema

There is no test to diagnose eczema. During a physical exam, your child’s doctor will document symptoms and rule out other conditions that cause skin inflammation.

To help identify triggers, the care team might ask you to withhold certain foods or change household detergents. Only through trial and error can you and your doctor discover what is irritating your child’s skin.

Your child is more likely to have eczema if other family members have allergies, asthma or eczema. A family health history can help your doctor diagnose eczema.

Treating eczema

A wide range of treatments to help your child cope with eczema

Eczema treatments work to ease symptoms by reducing inflammation and cooling and moisturizing the skin.

Treatments the doctor could prescribe

  • Antibiotics

  • Antihistamines

  • Corticosteroid pills

  • Immune suppressants

  • Phototherapy

  • Topical anti-inflammatory medicines

  • Topical corticosteroids

  • Topical moisturizers

Treatments you can provide at home

  • Bleach baths

  • Wet wraps

Ways to prevent an eczema flare-up

  • Avoid getting overheated

  • Drink plenty of water

  • Keep fingernails short to prevent skin damage from scratching

  • Keep your home free of allergens like dust

  • Learn to manage stress

  • Take short baths or showers in warm water

  • Use unscented soaps

  • Use oil-free moisturizers

  • Wear cotton clothes that breathe

  • Wear gloves at night to prevent scratching

How to prevent and treat infections

If the skin breaks from scratching or cracking, eczema rashes can become infected. Call your doctor if you notice your child has:

  • Areas of skin that look like raised red blisters

  • Pus-filled bumps near the rash

  • Redness and warmth on or near the rash

Smiling child with sign reading UW Health Kids
UW Health Kids
Our pediatric experts have served the special needs of children for more than 100 years. We focus on each child’s unique needs and offer social and emotional support to help you and your child face even the most complex condition. Our long history includes the creation of medical advances that save lives around the world. Together, we get your child back to health and enjoying being a kid.

Meet our team

Specialty care for inflamed skin

The UW Health Kids Dermatology team includes pediatric experts in all skin conditions include eczema, psoriasis and allergies.


Finding the care you need

We offer specialized care for eczema and atopic dermatitis in Madison, Wis.