Eczema (EHK-zih-muh) is a general term for several types of skin inflammations. The most severe form of eczema is called atopic dermatitis (ay-TAWP-ihk dehr-muh-TYE-tihs), or AD (A-D). AD is characterized by dry, itchy skin that may develop rashes, blisters, weeping sores, or thick, flaky lesions. The disease is believed to be hereditary and is often accompanied by asthma and/or hay fever as well. AD usually appears first during infancy and may improve by age 25. In some patients, however, the disease will cause lifelong problems. Attacks may be triggered by a number of factors, including dry skin, allergic reactions, stress, sweating, and irritating substances like harsh detergents, topical alcohol, smoke, and scratchy fabrics. The intense itching creates an almost irresistible urge to scratch, which in turn can lead to infection. Control of AD includes avoiding known triggers whenever possible and keeping the skin well hydrated. Use warm, rather than hot, water for bathing and wear loose, soft clothing. When an outbreak occurs, a doctor may suggest oral antihistamines, steroid ointments, or tar-based creams to ease discomfort. In extreme cases, ultraviolet light may be used to help clear the skin.
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