What Is an Eczema Flare?

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: March 2023

Atopic dermatitis, also known as eczema, is a chronic skin condition that affects up to 20 percent of children and up to 8 percent of adults. Many people with eczema experience changes in their symptoms over time.1,2

There may be periods when their symptoms are mild and do not cause much discomfort. At other times, symptoms can worsen and become so severe that they impact their daily activities. These periods of worse symptoms are often called flares, or flare-ups.1,2

A commonly used medical definition for a flare is worsening signs and symptoms requiring an increase in treatment. But this definition will not always apply to all people with eczema. Some may be used to living with their eczema and may not seek treatment. Others may have such severe symptoms that they seek emergency medical treatment.1,2

What are common symptoms of an eczema flare?

Although symptoms of a flare vary from person to person, common symptoms can include:1-3

  • Increased redness of the skin or skin that is darker than your usual tone
  • Itchy, dry, cracked, swollen, and sore skin
  • New patches of irritated skin
  • Irritated skin that becomes oozy or crusty
  • Bleeding from over-scratching

Skin that is oozing or crusty can be a sign of infection and should be treated by your doctor. It is best to catch eczema flares early and try to prevent severe symptoms. If you notice symptoms beginning to worsen, talk to your doctor about the next steps you should take.3

What can I do before, during, and after an eczema flare?

An eczema flare can result in severe symptoms if left untreated. It is important to get it under control when you first notice that a flare may be coming on. While you may not be able to prevent it, there are steps you can take to help minimize its effects.3

Before an eczema flare

Before an eczema flare, you can take these precautions:3

  • Take your usual steps to manage your eczema, such as using moisturizers and emollients and avoiding irritants. Moisturizers should be thick creams, preferably with ceramides. Irritants may include hot showers, scented soaps and detergents, and wool clothing.
  • Be consistent in your skin-care routine, and use all treatments as prescribed by your doctor.
  • Make sure you have enough supply of your moisturizers, emollients, and any treatments prescribed by your doctor.
  • Write down and track your symptoms over time.
  • Prepare ahead of time. With your doctor, set up an action plan for when a flare occurs. Make sure the plan includes next steps in case your flare symptoms do not improve within a week.

During a flare

During an eczema flare, follow these steps:3

  • Use topical steroids (drugs that reduce inflammation) as directed by your doctor. If you are using a high-strength topical steroid, your doctor will likely have you reduce the frequency until you stop rather than stop it suddenly. If your flare is severe, your doctor may prescribe an oral steroid.
  • If they are concerned that your skin is infected, your doctor may instruct you to take antibiotics.
  • If symptoms do not improve within 1 week, contact your doctor. They may prescribe additional treatment if needed.
  • Continue to track your symptoms. This can be helpful for follow-up appointments with your doctor. It can also give you an idea of any triggers or patterns.
  • Prioritize your self-care. Moisturize your skin, eat well, drink plenty of fluids, and make sure you get enough sleep. This will help your body heal.

After a flare

After a flare, consider this tip:3

  • Try to learn from your experience. Tracking your symptoms can help you identify what works well during a flare and what does not. Getting more rest or using different types of moisturizer may work differently depending on the person.

If you continue to experience flares and notice that they are happening more often, let your doctor know. You may need to change your daily treatment regimen or your flare plan.3

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