• Reviewed on 5/15
    By Dr. Boguniewicz

Atopic Dermatitis (Eczema): Treatment


A variety of prescribed topical treatments are available for eczema, in addition to over-the-counter treatments, such as various moisturizers. Medicines are added to your daily skin care when itching and rash are not well controlled. Medicines also are required if there is an infection.

Topical Steroids: Steroid medicines that are applied to the skin are called topical steroids. Topical steroids are drugs that fight inflammation. They are very helpful when rash is not well controlled. Topical steroids are available in many forms such as ointments, creams, lotions, gels and even tape. It is important to know that topical steroids are made in low to super potent strengths. Do not substitute one topical steroid for another without your healthcare provider's advice. Used correctly, topical steroids are safe and effective. Steroid pills or liquids, such as prednisone, should be avoided because of side effects and because the rash often comes back after they are stopped.

Non-Steroid Medical Devices ("Barrier Repair Creams")
Several topical products that are not FDA regulated, but require prescriptions since they are registered as medical devices, have been developed for itchy rashes. These include Epiceram®, Atopiclair®, MimyX®.

Topical Clacineurin Inhibitors (TCIs): TCIs are also medicines that are applied to the skin. They also treat inflammation, but are not steroids. TCIs don't cause steroid side effects. A common side effect of TCIs is skin burning. This is often not a long-lasting problem. TCIs include Protopic® ointment (tacrolimus) and Elidel® cream (pimecrolimus).

Antiinfectives: Skin infections caused by bacteria (e.g. impetigo), fungus (e.g. athlete's foot) and viruses (e.g. cold sores) can complicate atopic dermatitis. Some antibiotics, antifungal and antiviral medications are applied to the skin; others are pills or liquids taken by mouth. A skin infection can quickly get out of control. Call your healthcare provider right away if you think you have an infection.

Antihistamines: Antihistamines taken by mouth are used to control allergy symptoms and can help reduce itching. Some antihistamines cause drowsiness. This can make you feel less itchy and help you sleep. Creams and lotions that contain antihistamines or anesthetics (for numbing) should be avoided. They can cause skin irritation and allergic skin reactions.

Tar-based soaps and shampoos: Skin and scalp products that contain coal-tar extracts have long been used to reduce itching and rash. They are not as strong as some other medicines, but they have long-lasting action against inflammation and have few side effects. Tar-based shampoos are helpful if the scalp is red and itchy. One popular brand is T-Gel.


Soak and Seal

The soak and seal procedure is an effective way to retain moisture in dry, irritated skin. Learn more.


Treating Skin Infections

Infections with bacteria and viruses are common among atopic dermatitis patients. Learn more.


Wet Wrap Therapy

When symptoms are severe, your healthcare provider may suggest wet wrap therapy. Learn more.



Exposure to natural sunlight or ultraviolet light often helps people with atopic dermatitis. Learn more.


Psychological Counseling

People with atopic dermatitis often struggle with a poor self-image and low self-esteem. In severe cases, the appearance of their skin can invite teasing and, especially with children, interfere with peer relationships. Learn more.


Day Hospitalization

Day hospitalization at centers specializing in treatment of skin disorders can be helpful for patients whose rashes are not controlled by medications and by avoiding irritants. Learn more.

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