Diagnosing atopic eczema 

Your GP will usually be able to diagnose atopic eczema by looking at your skin and asking questions about your symptoms.

These questions may include asking:

  • whether the rash is itchy and where it appears
  • when the symptoms first began
  • whether it comes and goes over time
  • whether there is a history of atopic eczema in your family
  • whether you have any other conditions, such as allergies or asthma

You should tell your GP if your condition is affecting your quality of life – for example, if you have difficulty sleeping because of itching, or your eczema limits your everyday activities.

Checklist for diagnosing atopic eczema

Typically, to be diagnosed with atopic eczema you should have had an itchy skin condition in the last 12 months and three or more of the following:

  • visibly irritated red skin in the creases of your skin, such as the insides of your elbows or behind your knees (or on the cheeks, outsides of elbows, or fronts of the knees in children aged 18 months or under) at the time of examination by a health professional
  • a history of skin irritation occurring in the same areas mentioned above
  • generally dry skin in the last 12 months
  • a history of asthma or hay fever – children under four must have an immediate relative, such as a parent, brother or sister, who has one of these conditions
  • the condition started before the age of two (this does not apply to children under the age of four)

Establishing triggers

Your GP should work with you to establish if any triggers make your eczema worse. 

You may be asked about your diet and lifestyle to see if something obvious may be contributing to your symptoms. For example, you may have noticed some soaps or shampoos make the eczema worse.

You may also be asked to keep a food diary to try to determine whether a specific food makes your symptoms worse.

A food diary involves writing down everything you eat and making a record of any eczema flare-ups you have. Your GP can then use the diary to see if there is a pattern between your symptoms and what you eat.

Allergy tests are not usually needed to identify triggers, although they are sometimes helpful in identifying food allergies that may be triggering symptoms in young children or in those where a food allergy is suspected.

Read more about triggers and causes of atopic eczema.

Page last reviewed: 25/11/2014

Next review due: 25/11/2016