What Treatment Options Are There For Atopic Dermatitis?

Eczema is the more common name for atopic dermatitis. Eczema is a long-term (chronic) skin disease that occurs most often in children. Sometimes it lasts into adulthood. Symptoms include:1

  • Itchy, dry skin
  • Red patches
  • Oozing, crusting, and thickening of the skin where it has been scratched

Treatment options

Eczema cannot be cured, but the symptoms may often be controlled by using a combination of treatments, such as:1

  • Skin care, especially moisturizer
  • Prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) drugs
  • Topical (skin) creams
  • Immunosuppressants
  • Biologics
  • JAK inhibitors
  • Antihistamines
  • Antibiotics
  • Phototherapy (light therapy)
  • Identifying and avoiding triggers
  • Lifestyle changes
  • Stress relief
  • Home remedies

Goals of eczema treatment

Eczema is different for everyone, and most people find they need a combination of treatments to control their symptoms. However, the goals of treatment are the same and include:1

  • Reduce flares
  • Reduce the itch, pain, and other symptoms
  • Stop atopic dermatitis from getting worse
  • Lower the risk of you developing thicker skin, which tends to itch worse
  • Keep your skin hydrated
  • Lower your risk of infection

It may take some time to find the right combination of treatments that meet these goals for you. What works may also change depending on whether your symptoms are mild, moderate, or severe.1

Skincare routines

How you bathe, shower, and moisturize are all important first steps in controlling your atopic dermatitis. Warm baths or showers followed by plenty of moisturizer can help hydrate the skin. This helps control itchiness and infections. Keep in mind: It may take some time to find the right combination of water temperature and moisturizer that works best for you.1

Prescription and OTC medicines

There are many prescription and OTC drugs used to help control the symptoms of atopic dermatitis, including:1

  • Topical (skin) creams
  • Immunosuppressants
  • Biologics
  • JAK inhibitors
  • Antibiotics
  • Antihistamines

These medicines come in different forms, including skin creams, pills, or injections. Some treatments may be used in combination. Some are only used when other treatments do not work.

Phototherapy

Phototherapy, or light therapy, uses ultraviolet light to treat eczema. It may be added to your treatment plan if skin creams alone do not fully control symptoms.1

Identifying and avoiding triggers

In general, atopic dermatitis makes the skin more sensitive and reactive than normal. This means everyday things in your life can cause symptoms to flare, so you will want to avoid them. Some common eczema triggers include:1,3

  • Skincare products
  • Hot or cold weather, low humidity
  • Wool clothing
  • Stress
  • Laundry detergents with fragrance

Lifestyle changes

If you have eczema, you may need to make certain changes in your life. For example, you may need to learn to:1

  • Avoid getting too warm
  • Change the types of fabrics you wear
  • Avoid fragrances and preservatives
  • Change the soap and laundry detergent you use
  • Build regular times into your day to moisturize
  • Bathe more or less often
  • Learn new relaxation techniques

Stress relief

Managing stress and anxiety through yoga, deep breathing exercises, cognitive behavioral therapy, or massage help improve quality of life.

Home remedies

Home remedies can also bring relief, help moisturize skin, and be cost-effective. Some popular remedies that help reduce itching and bring comfort include:1,2

  • Warm, not hot, baths
  • Wet wraps
  • Oils from coconuts, sunflower seeds, evening primrose, or emus

Clinical trials

Joining a clinical trial may help you gain access to new treatments before they are available to the public. Ask your doctor about studies you may be able to join. Eligibility varies and may depend on your age, gender, eczema severity, and other treatments you have used.

Educate yourself

Research shows that becoming educated about your eczema and its treatments is one of the best ways to control the condition. One study found having a 6-week education program resulted in less severe symptoms, less scratching, and better quality of life. These sessions included topics like medicine, nutrition, and coping skills.1

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Written by: Jessica Johns Pool | Last reviewed: February 2022