Eczema is a general term for any type of dermatitis or “inflammation of the skin.” Atopic dermatitis is the most severe and long-lasting kind of eczema. Eczema generally causes itching and redness, and some patients will blister, weep, or peel. The best line of defense against eczema is prevention, but flare-ups rarely can be avoided. Cortisone (steroid, predisone-like) creams applied directly to the affected area are helpful and a mainstay of therapy. Cortisone pills or shots are sometimes used, but they are not safe for long-term use. Tar baths, antihistamines, and antibiotics are often used, but these meet with limited success. Treatments that don’t seem to work include vitamins, mineral supplements, enriched diets, or nutritional supplements.
Researchers are seeking new and safer drugs to control the itch and inflammation. Topical immunomodulators (TIMs) are a new family of topical medications that inhibit the skin’s inflammatory response (which is what causes the redness and itching). TIMs are not steroids and do not cause thinning of the skin but they can suppress the immune system in the skin so that the use of sun protection for anyone receiving this therapy is recommended. Talk to your local pharmacist if you have questions about options for eczema treatment.