There’s no cure for eczema, but various treatments can manage symptoms and reduce the occurrence of flare-ups.

Atopic dermatitis, also called eczema, is a relatively common condition that affects about 30% of people in the United States.

Despite how common it is, no case of eczema is the same as another. This means treatment options vary between individuals.

Learn more about the potential treatment options for eczema and why doctors may recommend them. This article also discusses potential side effects of treatment to discuss with a doctor.

Over-the-counter (OTC) products may not treat the underlying causes of eczema, but they may provide relief of some of the more common symptoms, such as itchiness and dryness.

OTC options include:

Just because these products are sold OTC doesn’t mean there aren’t side effects to consider.

For example, long-term use of hydrocortisone cream can cause dryness, itchiness, and burning. Antihistamines may cause drowsiness or dizziness.

For more severe eczema, a doctor may prescribe topical creams or ointments to reduce inflammation and improve symptoms.

Common options include:

  • Topical steroids: These are among the most commonly prescribed products for eczema. Possible side effects include rashes, thinning skin, and stretch marks. Overuse can also cause hypopigmentation.
  • Topical calcineurin inhibitors (TCIs): These may be an option for delicate areas of skin not suitable for topical steroids. Scientists have identified lymphoma as a possible, rare risk of long-term TCI usage, but there is no causal link to date.
  • Topical Janus kinase (JAK) inhibitors: Doctors may prescribe these for people ages 12 and older.
  • Topical phosphodiesterase 4 (PDE4) inhibitors: Doctors may prescribe these for mild to moderate eczema in people ages 3 months and older.

In cases of moderate to severe eczema, topical treatments may not adequately address the underlying inflammation. This is where prescription oral medications may help.

A doctor may consider prescribing:

Some of these medications may suppress your immune system, leading to side effects such as an increased risk of infections, weight changes, and insomnia.

Others, such as azathioprine, may increase your risk of certain cancers with long-term use.

Injectables may also treat moderate to severe eczema. These come in the following formulas:

  • Steroid injections: These are typically for temporary use to treat severe inflammation that doesn’t respond to other treatments. Due to the high risk of side effects, the American Academy of Family Physicians does not recommend steroid injections, especially for children.
  • Biologics: A newer class of injectables, biologics may target abnormal immune system responses contributing to eczema. Side effects may occur at the injection site, including rash, swelling, or hives.
  • Immunotherapy: Also known as allergy shots, immunotherapy doesn’t directly treat eczema. Instead, it may help treat the underlying triggers of eczema flares, such as pollen.

While some eczema flares develop in small areas of the skin, others may be more widespread. This is when phototherapy may help.

Phototherapy involves using ultraviolet (UV) rays to target eczema that covers a large area of the body. To access phototherapy for eczema, a doctor refers you to a treatment center. Treatments take place a few times per week for up to 6 months.

Serious side effects, such as skin cancer, are uncommon. However, phototherapy may pose the risk of mild side effects, such as redness and burns.

You can also complement medications with the following home remedies and management techniques for eczema:

  • using colloidal oatmeal products, such as in baths
  • applying cool compresses to your skin
  • using detergents and soaps that do not have dyes or fragrances
  • avoiding perfumes
  • wearing loose clothing made of natural fabrics, such as cotton
  • avoiding any known triggers, such as animal dander or pollen

While researchers are still exploring alternative and complementary approaches to eczema, possible methods include:

Talk with a doctor before considering any alternative eczema treatments. This is especially the case when managing eczema in children.

Patch testing any topical OTC products can help you check whether it causes irritation or an allergic reaction.

You can also use OTC products, topical medications, and other prescription treatments to manage eczema in children.

A doctor may also recommend other strategies to ensure your child’s skin stays moist, including:

  • the “soak and seal” method, a technique that involves taking a brief bath before applying prescription topicals and moisturizers before applying wet wraps to help seal them into the skin
  • wet wrap therapy, which is similar to the “soak and seal” method, except your child doesn’t take a bath beforehand
  • bleach baths
  • oatmeal baths
  • using gentle, fragrance-free skin products only

About 3 in 5 people with eczema first develop it during infancy.

Due to the side effects of topical steroids, these medications are typically reserved for severe eczema only. A pediatrician may recommend other strategies first, such as:

  • limiting baths to under 10 minutes
  • using fragrance-free products only
  • applying a moisturizer to your baby’s skin
  • avoiding irritants and triggers, such as allergens, sweat, and fragrances

Since eczema can increase the risk of skin infections, look out for signs of them in your baby. Symptoms may include sores, blisters, and discolored crusts on their skin.

When discussing eczema treatment options with a doctor, consider the following common questions:

What heals eczema quickly?

The exact time it takes for eczema medications to work depends on your treatment response and the severity of your condition.

Some people may experience immediate relief with oral or topical medications. Injectables can take much longer to take effect but may help in the long run.

What can cure eczema completely?

Eczema is treatable, but there’s currently no cure. Some people who develop eczema during childhood sometimes outgrow the condition, but it may come back.

For many people, eczema is a chronic condition with alternating periods of flare-ups and remissions.

Which eczema treatments work best for the face?

Treatment for facial eczema is often conservative. Since the skin on your face is thinner than on other parts of your body, topical steroids may be too strong.

Instead, a doctor may recommend OTC products first with a gentle skin care routine. If these don’t help, they may prescribe a milder topical steroid cream.

Eczema is a chronic condition involving flares and times of remission throughout your lifetime. You may only need treatments during flare-ups. In more severe cases, you may need systemic treatments or long-term medications to manage your eczema.

Talk with a doctor about which eczema treatments may be best for you. They can consider factors such as your age and the severity of your condition.