Symptoms of atopic eczema 

The symptoms of atopic eczema may always be present. They can become worse during a flare-up, needing additional treatment.

Symptoms include itchy, dry and red skin that may be broken or cracked.

Atopic eczema can occur in small patches all over the body and is most common:

  • in infants – on the face and scalp, and on the arms and legs
  • in adults and children – on the hands or around joints on the arms and legs, such as the inside of the elbows or the backs of the knees

The symptoms of atopic eczema vary according to how severely you or your child are affected by the condition.

People with mild atopic eczema normally have only small areas of dry skin that are occasionally itchy. In more severe cases, atopic eczema can cause widespread dry skin, constant itching and oozing fluid.

Scratching can disrupt your sleep and make your skin bleed. It can also make itching worse, and a cycle of itching and regular scratching may develop. In children, this can lead to sleepless nights and difficulty concentrating at school.

During a flare-up

Symptoms become worse during a flare-up, and you or your child may need stronger treatment when this happens.

During a flare-up, your skin may be:

  • extremely itchy, red, hot, dry and scaly
  • wet, weeping and swollen
  • infected with bacteria (usually Staphylococcus aureus)  

Read more about infections and other complications of atopic eczema.


Advice on allergies such as eczema and food allergy, and what treatments are available on the NHS

Page last reviewed: 21/11/2012

Next review due: 21/11/2014