Early Stage Eczema Symptoms

Defining Eczema

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

Eczema Symptoms

The most general symptoms of eczema include:

  • Dry skin
  • Itchy skin
  • Inflammation
  • Redness 
  • Small blisters
  • Bumps that may ooze
  • Irritation

These symptoms mostly appear 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.

Eczema in Clinical Practice

In clinical practice, most pediatricians tend to think about eczema in terms of ages, not stages, when considering one type of eczema, atopic dermatitis. It is interesting to note that most people who develop atopic dermatitis will get it before the age of 5.

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 will not have thickened skin lesions that are leathery and what we call “lichenified.”

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

Eczema Stages Under Microscope

Doctors may sometimes examine a sample of your tissue under a microscope to better understand your eczema. This process is known as histology. They may use it to determine your eczema stages: acute, subacute, and chronic. 

Different types of eczema will show up differently under the microscope. Stasis dermatitis will look different from atopic dermatitis. However it is important to note that a doctor will rarely take a tissue sample to diagnose eczema. A visual inspection of eczema on the skin and its symptoms is usually more than enough to establish a diagnosis.

The Stages of Eczema

While not necessarily critical for treatment, and perhaps used more in disciplines other than pediatrics, we can explain what is being referred to as Eczema Stages.

It is not important that your eczema goes through all three stages. In some cases, it may start at the acute stage and then move to subacute and chronic, while in other cases, it may start at the subacute stage and then move on toward the acute stage. 

Acute Eczema

Acute eczema is the early stage eczema, it is usually when the rash starts to appear. You may consider the symptoms to be very mild, but the fact is the symptoms are more intense at this stage, especially the itch. Some other symptoms are:

  • Bumps
  • Redness
  • Fluid-filled blisters
  • Swelling
  • Itching 

Acute-stage eczema rashes are also characterized by distinct borders and very intense symptoms. But luckily, this early stage doesn’t always become a chronic condition. It is mostly experienced by babies under the age of 5. 

Subacute Eczema

The subacute phase is also known as the healing stage. The eczema symptoms start changing as they start to heal. However, if proper treatment is not provided there are chances the eczema will get worse.

 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 eczema rash also does not have distinct borders, and the rash is generally dry rather than oozing.

Chronic Eczema

The chronic stage refers to eczema that is longer-lasting. Chronic eczema symptoms differ from those of the other two stages. 

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

The eczema symptoms at this stage are usually more intense than subacute eczema. Remember never to scratch your eczema rash at any stage but especially at this stage. Scratching can make the condition worse and lead to infection. 

Treating Eczema Symptoms

Even though there is no permanent cure for eczema. Two important things you should do to help soothe the skin and prevent future eczema flare-ups no matter what stage of eczema you have.

1. Eczema Skincare

Take proper care of your skin and follow an eczema skincare routine. This skincare is very beneficial for subacute eczema.

  • Cleanse your skin with an eczema shampoo and body wash once daily.
  • Make sure to choose an eczema cleanser that is free from harsh chemicals. Happy Cappy Daily Shampoo and Body Wash is a non-soap eczema shampoo and body wash that features soothing Licorice root extract and Oatmeal Extract to calm redness and itching.
  • Moisturize your skin with an eczema cream twice daily, especially after washing your skin. 
  • Don’t forget to moisturize your skin after taking a bath.
  • Choose an eczema cream that is hypoallergenic like Happy Cappy Moisturizing Cream for Eczema which is specially formulated to soothe dry, eczema-prone, sensitive skin and protect the skin’s natural barrier. Safe to be used by people of all ages.

2. Avoid Triggers

Triggers are environmental variables that can induce an eczema flare-up. While they may vary from person to person, the most common triggers include 

  • Soaps ( switch to an eczema body wash)
  • Detergents (use a mild fragrance-free detergent)
  • Extreme temperatures (maintain the temperature inside your house and protect yourself appropriately when outside)
  • Dry skin (use a moisturizer or cream to keep the skin hydrated)
  • Stress (stress management with yoga, exercise, and breathing practice)

Try avoiding these triggers or if you are not sure about what might be triggering your eczema. Also consult an allergist or dermatologist who can perform a patch test to identify the exact culprit.

3. Medications

In most cases of eczema, the doctor will prescribe the use of certain medications with an eczema skincare regime such as

  • Antihistamines
  • Topical corticosteroids
  • Topical steroids
  • Topical calcineurin inhibitors
  • Hydrocortisone cream

Follow a proper skincare routine even after the symptoms are alleviated–it will help prevent future eczema flare-ups.


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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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