Early Stage Eczema Symptoms

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Eczema is a term that describes numerous inflammatory skin conditions that cause redness, inflammation, itchiness, and dryness.  To mention a few types of eczema, there is atopic dermatitis, contact dermatitis, and dyshydrotic eczema. Though people of all ages can suffer from eczema, it’s very common in babies and young children.

The most general symptoms of eczema include:

  • Dry skin
  • Itchy skin
  • Inflammation
  • Redness or irritation on the face, head, hands, elbows, ankles and feet as well as behind the knees

The symptoms can vary from person to person or depending on the person’s age.

Some physicians refer to lesions of eczema as acute, subacute or chronic.

When looking at the skin affected by eczema under the microscope you may think of eczema in terms of the condition’s stage as well.

Different forms of eczema, for example, allergic contact dermatitis vs. stasis dermatitis appear in different patterns on the body and they will look slightly different under the microscope.

The practice of looking at tissue samples under the microscope is called histology. When thinking about eczema on this level, descriptions of eczema are broken up into stages: acute, subacute, and chronic as well. Your doctor will most likely not be taking a tissue sample to treat your eczema.

The Stages of Eczema

When looking at looking at one type of eczema, atopic dermatitis, in clinical practice most pediatricians tend to think about eczema in terms of ages, not stages. It is interesting to note that most people that end up with atopic dermatitis will get it before the age of 5 years old.

The skin lesions of eczema change with how long they have been around, so a 6 month old baby that has not rubbed their skin for years on end will not have thickened skin lesions that are leathery and what we call “lichenified.”

It’s important to see your pediatrician right away if your child exhibits any symptoms at any age, as early intervention can go a long way towards soothing eczema and reducing the risk of infection and scarring.

While not necessarily critical for treatment, and perhaps used more in disciplines other than pediatrics, we can go through and explain what is being referred to at each stage.

Acute Eczema

Acute eczema features:

  • Bumps
  • Redness
  • Fluid-filled blisters
  • Swelling

Acute stage rashes are also characterized by distinct borders and very intense symptoms. But luckily, this early stage doesn’t always turn into a chronic condition.

Subacute Eczema

The subacute phase is when the condition transitions from acute to chronic – meaning short term to long term. Subacute eczema is characterized by:

  • Cracking skin
  • Flaky or scaly patches
  • Redness
  • Burning or stinging

There may be some itching in this stage, but it’s generally much less severe than in the acute stage. Subacute rashes also do not have very distinct borders, and the rash is generally dry rather than oozing.

Chronic Eczema

This final stage refers to eczema that is longer-lasting.

  • Discolored or dark skin
  • Leathery patches of skin (lichenification)
  • Cracks
  • Itching
  • Clearly defined skin lines

Treating Eczema Symptoms

There is no cure for eczema of any stage, but there are several treatment methods that can help soothe the skin and prevent future flare-ups.

Your doctor may prescribe topical steroids or recommend over-the-counter hydrocortisone creams for early stage eczema, but the most consistent and effective treatments are avoiding triggers and proper skincare. Triggers are environmental variables that can induce an eczema flare-up. While they may vary from person to person, the most common triggers include harsh products like soaps and detergents, extreme temperatures, dry skin, and stress.

The best skincare for eczema includes using a non-soap eczema body wash and shampoo. Dr. Eddie’s Happy Cappy Daily Shampoo and Body Wash is made without harsh ingredients that can irritate eczema-prone skin and features soothing Licorice and Oatmeal Extract to calm redness and itching. Good skincare also includes moisturizing at least twice a day with a gentle baby eczema cream like Happy Cappy Moisturizing Cream.


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Dr. Eddie Valenzuela is an award winning pediatrician and the founder and CEO of Pediatric Solutions, LLC.

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What does acute eczema mean?

Acute eczema is the first phase in which the redness, dryness, and itching associated with eczema start to appear.

Can acute eczema be cured?

Eczema can not be fully cured. However, the acute stage of eczema is easier to manage and control as the symptoms develop at this stage. If eczema is managed properly at this stage, you will be more comfortable and possibly need less intense medical management–less steroids for example.

What is the difference between acute and subacute eczema?

Acute is the first phase of eczema. In this, the symptoms start to appear, and itching can be more severe in this phase. Subacute is the second phase of eczema the itching becomes less severe, but dryness, cracking, and skin flaking worsen.

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