Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

beginning of content


4-minute read

On this page

What is eczema?

Eczema is a common skin condition that affects both children and adults. It’s also known as atopic eczema, atopic dermatitis and allergic eczema.

People with eczema have skin that doesn’t keep the moisture in very well, so it becomes dry and easily irritated. This causes chemicals to be released, which worsens the irritation and makes you want to scratch. But scratching only makes your skin more itchy and so the cycle repeats itself. This can be very frustrating.

Your guide to eczema - video

What are the symptoms of eczema?

If you have eczema, you’ll have areas of red, dry, itchy skin, most commonly found in the creases of your elbows, wrists, neck and behind the knees.

CHECK YOUR SYMPTOMS — Use our rashes and skin problems Symptom Checker and find out if you need to seek medical help.

What causes eczema?

Nobody knows exactly what causes eczema, but it can run in families. Many people with eczema also have other allergic conditions, including hay fever and asthma.

What triggers eczema?

There are many things, known as triggers, that can make eczema symptoms worse, including:

  • dry skin
  • scratching the affected area
  • viral or bacterial infections
  • chemicals from swimming pools
  • sand, especially from sandpits
  • some types of carpet or grass
  • animals or house dust mites
  • allergens that you can breathe in, such as pollen
  • artificial colours and preservatives
  • perfumes, soap and chemicals
  • woollen or synthetic fabrics
  • heat or very hot rooms
  • stress

Not all of these things will trigger a person’s eczema. It varies from person to person.

Using a lot of soap, grease, food or chemicals can damage the skin’s protective barrier, making it more likely that eczema will develop.

How is eczema diagnosed?

Your doctor will be able to diagnose your eczema by talking to you and examining you. They might also request allergy tests or test your skin to help with the diagnosis and inform your treatment. Your doctor will help you discover what triggers your eczema.

FIND A HEALTH SERVICE — Our Service Finder can help you find doctors, pharmacies, hospitals and other health services.

ASK YOUR DOCTOR — Preparing for an appointment? Use our Question Builder for general tips on what to ask your GP or specialist.

How is eczema treated?

While there is no cure, eczema is quite treatable. Here are some ways to manage your eczema:

  • Protect your skin by applying moisturiser every day. Some people with severe eczema might need wet dressings, which cool, protect and rehydrate the skin.
  • Treat flare-ups by using ointments or creams prescribed by your doctor.
  • Control itching by using antihistamines, a cold compress for the affected area and trying not to scratch.
  • Control and prevent infection by keeping your house clean and using antibiotics to treat infection if prescribed by your doctor.

Some dermatologists might also use ultraviolet light (PUVA) to reduce inflammation.

Many people find eczema improves as they get older.

There is no evidence that probiotics and evening primrose oil are effective in treating eczema.

Once you know what triggers your eczema, your doctor may be able to help you develop an eczema action plan. This is a personal guide and checklist for how to manage your eczema and prevent it from flaring up. Ways of managing eczema include:

  • avoiding your triggers
  • avoiding things that can damage or dry out the skin, like soap or bubble bath
  • making sure baths and showers aren’t too hot
  • rinsing off chlorine from swimming pools straight after swimming
  • avoiding overheating or wearing woollen next to the skin

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: February 2020

Back To Top

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Top results

Managing Eczema » Nip Allergies in the Bub

Managing Eczema There is no cure for eczema and it can be very uncomfortable

Read more on National Allergy Strategy website

Eczema - Young Adults

Listen Eczema TOP TIPS FOR MANAGING ECZEMA Moisturise your skin twice a day every day even when there is no eczema and your skin looks/feels great

Read more on National Allergy Strategy website

Childhood rashes - Eczema

Eczema is a common chronic skin condition in children. Typically, eczema is characterised by an itchy rash that comes and goes. Eczema is not contagious but does tend to run in families and commonly first appears in early childhood.

Read more on Pregnancy, Birth & Baby website

Life with Eczema - Allergy & Anaphylaxis Australia

Life with Eczema

Read more on Allergy and Anaphylaxis Australia website

What is Eczema? » Nip Allergies in the Bub

What is Eczema? Eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis, affects 1 in 5 children under 2 years of age

Read more on National Allergy Strategy website

ACD A-Z of Skin - Discoid Eczema

A-Z OF SKIN Discoid Eczema BACK TO A-Z SEARCH What is it? Also known as … Discoid Dermatitis Discoid eczema is a common type of eczema or dermatitis with coin-shaped areas of inflammation on the limbs or torso

Read more on Australasian College of Dermatologists website

Eczema and allergy prevention » Nip Allergies in the Bub

Eczema and allergy prevention There has been recent research looking into preventing eczema in babies and also preventing food allergies in babies who develop eczema

Read more on National Allergy Strategy website

Eczema - Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy (ASCIA)

Eczema is a chronic health condition that affects the skin, causing redness, dryness itching and sometimes infections. When eczema worsens it is called an eczema flare and usually there is no single factor for an eczema flare. Eczema flares can be triggered by a range of irritants (see Q 8) or for no obvious reason.

Read more on ASCIA – Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy website

Eczema and Food Allergy » Nip Allergies in the Bub

Eczema and Food Allergy Many babies with moderate or severe eczema will also have a food allergy

Read more on National Allergy Strategy website

Eczema (atopic dermatitis)

Eczema is a common skin disorder that affects all ages but most commonly babies and children.

Read more on WA Health website

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information and advice

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Victorian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo

Healthdirect Australia acknowledges the Traditional Owners of Country throughout Australia and their continuing connection to land, sea and community. We pay our respects to the Traditional Owners and to Elders both past and present.