Beginning Stages of Eczema: Causes & Treatments

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Just like any disease, prevention is key. If you can do all the right things to help prevent eczema, then you will keep it away. But eczema has a nasty habit of coming out of nowhere and surprising you when it’s too late.

In the beginning stages of eczema, the Acute stage, the eczema is very red, itchy, and swollen. You must take great care during this stage to stop eczema from moving to the subacute stage and then the chronic stage. To control it, increase sleep, reduce stress, and avoid dairy and processed foods.

Eczema (atopic dermatitis or contact dermatitis) is a fairly general term that describes different skin conditions. As more is learned about eczema and what causes it, researchers are getting a better understanding of its different stages.

These 3 stages of eczema (atopic dermatitis or contact dermatitis) are:

  1. The Acute Stage
  2. The Subacute Stage
  3. The Chronic Stage

Read on to learn more about each stage. I’ll then discuss different eczema stages by age group – baby, childhood, adult. Lastly, I’ll give useful tips to control eczema during the beginning ‘Acute’ stage.

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Stages of Eczema

1. Beginning Stage of Eczema: Acute Stage

Acute is defined, in terms of a disease, as an illness that is of short duration, rapidly progressive, and in need of urgent care. It is important to care for it before it goes to the next stage, the subacute stage, and then the chronic stage.

This acute stage is in the beginning stages of eczema (atopic dermatitis or contact dermatitis). Symptoms include:

  • Bright red patches
  • Very bad itching
  • Raised body temperature
  • Swelling
  • Blisters
  • Pain
  • Hay fever
  • Scaly skin
  • Tenderness

To stop the progression of eczema (atopic dermatitis or contact dermatitis) at this stage, hydrocortisone cream can be used. This is used to stop the itch and help prevent eczema flare-ups of different types of eczema. Another possible treatment is to take an antihistamine.

Antihistamines, including the natural antihistamine vitamin C, can disrupt the immune system that leads to various types of eczema. It is best to see a doctor who will provide medical advice on the type of steroid cream to use.

The doctor will provide medical advice diagnosis that includes antibiotics, a patch test, ultraviolet light therapy, or steroid creams in more extreme cases.

Eczema may also get worse during this first stage. Use cold compresses and frequently moisturize to keep dry skin hydrated and controlled.

It is best to avoid using steroid creams if possible, but if you need to, go for as low potency as possible that is required. And only use the steroid for a temporary amount of time.

If you use too strong of a steroid for too long, it will weaken and thin your dry skin. This makes it harder in the future for your skin condition or skin disease to naturally heal itself when it is irritated.

It’s also important to know the various types of eczema. The two most common types of eczema are atopic dermatitis and contact dermatitis.

Atopic dermatitis (also called eczema atopic dermatitis) is a type of eczema that one is born with, and symptoms can come and go for a number of reasons. Atopic dermatitis eczema also is difficult to treat with no defined solution.

Contact dermatitis is a type of eczema that flares up when one comes in contact with a specific substance. It is often called either irritant contact dermatitis or allergic contact dermatitis. Contact dermatitis eczema also is easier to treat as one can simply avoid the substance that causes skin irritation or eczema flare-up.

2. Transition Stage of Eczema: Subacute Stage

This second stage transitions the sufferer from the initial acute stage to the more serious long-term chronic stage. Everyone’s symptoms and severity will be different.

Your eczema (atopic dermatitis or contact dermatitis) may quickly go from the acute stage right to the chronic stage. Eczema symptoms during the subacute stage are as follows:

  • Redness has subsided and becomes less intense
  • Itchy skin persists but is less intense
  • Cracks in the skin may start to appear
  • Flakes may start to appear
  • Scaly skin
  • Minor skin infections

Moisturizing during this stage on a regular basis is critical to soothe the dry skin and minimize the itching and eczema flares. Tar or coal baths can be used in stronger cases.

A stronger steroid ointment might be prescribed by the doctor if the previous cream did not suppress the itch. Those with various types of eczema will also often have hay fever. To avoid hay fever, dust your home often and avoid going outside during the pollen season.

3. Long-Lasting Stage of Eczema: Chronic Stage

Chronic eczema refers to various types of eczema that have lasted more than a few months. It is different from the other two stages and includes:

  • Lichenification: thick, leathery, dull-looking patches. The skin may develop this thick skin to protect itself against excessive, long-term scratching
  • Severely cracked skin may appear
  • Deep wrinkles or skin lines
  • Skin infections
  • Scaly skin
  • Continual itching as the dry skin is constantly irritated and itchy eczema flare-ups come and go frequently

Eczema (atopic dermatitis or allergic contact dermatitis) during the chronic stage is in a bad state of affairs. I know personally as I dealt with this skin condition for many years, especially on my lower legs. Regular moisturizers can be used for temporary relief, but something stronger is often needed, especially at night.

A doctor will provide a diagnosis for various types of eczema flares. The treatment may include a patch test or an even stronger percentage of steroid ointment or ointment. It can be used with plastic wrap to further seal in the moisture.

Remember to only use a steroid potency that is the minimum necessary. Do not go for as potent as possible as that will thin and weaken your skin. When I stopped using steroid ointment, it was like weaning myself off a drug. It was difficult at first to avoid scratching, but then my skin learned again how to self-heal itself.

Common Stages of Eczema By Age

When looking at the different stages of eczema (atopic dermatitis or allergic contact dermatitis), you can also separate them between different age groups:

  1. Baby Eczema Stage
  2. Childhood Eczema Stage
  3. Adult Eczema Stage

Each age group has similar symptoms and treatments, so if you or your loved one falls into one of these stages, they will be dealing with similar symptoms as many others in the same age group.

Baby Eczema

stage one eczema

At around 6 to 12 weeks old, baby eczema may appear. It is quite common with about 10 to 20% of babies having eczema atopic dermatitis (source). It is commonly found on the head, especially the cheeks, chin, lower legs, and scalp.

It is a red, bumpy, weeping, oozing rash. It is at risk of skin infections at this stage, so it is important to take special care to treat the baby. Use the right baby moisturizer, get eczema-friendly clothing and bedding, and constantly assess if their skin is getting better or worse.

At around 6 to 10 months old, the baby starts to crawl and move around. This may also make eczema (atopic dermatitis or allergic contact dermatitis) worse because the elbows, knees, lower legs, etc., are exposed and rubbed along the ground.

Infants also don’t have the willpower to not scratch. This can often be solved with gloves or scratch-free sealed shirts. If your baby has eczema, it is important to see a doctor for advice and guidance for this skin condition. The doctor often will prescribe a steroid ointment depending on the type of eczema you have and its severity.

Childhood Eczema

Often, baby eczema goes away at about 18 months. These babies, however, are at risk for later in life having eczema come back.

For those people who have eczema (atopic dermatitis or irritant contact dermatitis) in their childhood, it is commonly found in the flexor areas, such as behind the knees, elbows, lower legs, wrists, and around the neck.

Eczema may also appear on the lips as the child may constantly lick the lips, which causes dryness and cracks to form.

Hands and lower legs are also common places for childhood eczema symptoms. These parts of the body are an easy target to get scratched or come in contact with irritating things, for example, poison oak or poison ivy.

Contact with poison oak or poison ivy is one of the most common skin conditions. It can lead to contact dermatitis or for those who have dermatitis or are overly sensitive.

Hay fever is also common for children who suffer from eczema. Hay fever is caused by dust and pollen in the environment. Hay fever can also trigger eczema symptoms and make the symptoms worse.

After puberty, it is common for eczema (atopic dermatitis or contact dermatitis) and all skin infections to disappear. It can then go into a remission period where the child is eczema-free for several months or even years.

I experienced this myself. I was excited to be free of eczema symptoms, for I believe it was about a year, only for it to come back later in life. Symptoms of dermatitis usually come and go throughout one’s life.

I am able to manage and control my eczema (atopic dermatitis or contact dermatitis) now, but I look back at my childhood with pain sometimes, thinking about how I could have treated the different types of eczema and skin infections differently.

My parents cared and tried, but they just weren’t knowledgeable, neither were the doctors.

Adult Eczema

It is not that common for eczema (atopic dermatitis or contact dermatitis) to appear in adults. About 7% of adults have eczema atopic dermatitis (source). Symptoms of dermatitis usually occur in adults who had it as a child, or it can occur without ever having it as a child.

The severity can vary from person to person. Many sufferers only deal with hand eczema, with the dry skin on their hands, fingers, and between each finger being dry, itchy, and red, especially where the fingers bend.

A common cause of adult eczema (atopic dermatitis or contact dermatitis) is stress and/or poor sleeping habits. Poor diet and lifestyle may also be triggers for breakouts of eczema. Some jobs, such as those involving contact with water or chemicals, can make eczema hard to treat unless they change jobs.

How to Control Manage the Beginning Stages of Eczema

If you are in the first stage of eczema (atopic dermatitis or irritant contact dermatitis), you need to take great care to try to stop the spread of it before it grows.

It is not a fun time, I know. This is the most painful stage where the itchy skin burns and stings, so it is difficult to avoid scratching. This is the most painful stage, but it’s actually the stage that you can get out of the fastest, which is fantastic news.

Eat Only Eczema-friendly Foods

eczema diet stage

Basically, if you have very large patches that are really red and really itchy, you’re in stage one, and stage one can be healed very fast; for example, by switching your diet, staying away from gluten, dairy, eggs, fried food, and refined sugar.

So that’s going to be the basis or the foundation. By avoiding these foods during stage one, you can help heal it naturally.

Replace them with eczema-friendly foods such as fruit, veg, whole grains, apple cider vinegar, as well as foods that help produce collagen such as salmon, mushrooms, and sea vegetables.

Symptoms of dermatitis usually are minimized when you are eating the right foods and following a proper diet.

Eat Foods That Are Low in Salicylates

If you’re in stage one, also try to look up foods low in salicylates. Salicylates are derivatives of salicylic acid that occur naturally in plants and serve as a natural immune hormone and preservative, protecting the plants against diseases, insects, fungi, and harmful bacteria.

Foods high in salicylates can disrupt your immune system further and trigger various types of eczema (atopic dermatitis or contact dermatitis), so you want to avoid them during stage one.

Foods that are low in salicylates include cabbage, lentils, beans, bananas, and papaya. Remember to not go too extreme with your diet, however. I made that mistake and got very weak, and parts of my hair fell out. Keep your meals balanced. Just try to stick with low salicylate foods during stage one.

Eat Foods That Have the Least Amount of Pesticides Possible

If you’re in stage one, you’re kind of in a strange case, and by that, I mean your liver has probably reached a place where it can’t detox chemicals from your body.

These chemicals can be, for example, pesticides that were sprayed on fruits and vegetables. For this reason, you may want to stick to organic fruit and veg only.

To strengthen your immune system from pesticides, consider including a top-quality, natural multivitamin in your daily diet. See our post on the 7 Best Vitamins For Eczema and Psoriasis to learn more about important vitamins for improving the immune system and combating eczema (atopic dermatitis or contact dermatitis).

Or, if you can’t due to cost, avoid above-ground fruit and veg for now, and stick to root vegetables are very easy for your liver to deal with because they’re in the ground, and they don’t have to have a pesticide on them. Bananas are an exception and should be fine non-organic, as long as your body can properly digest bananas (I know many have trouble with them).

This may seem trivial, but eczema (atopic dermatitis or irritant contact dermatitis) can be triggered by something as small as some pesticide residue. You can also check out the dirty dozen list to see which foods are most heavily sprayed and therefore should only be eaten organic.

Get Plenty of Sleep: Enough to Have the Willpower to Avoid Scratching

Also, during the early stages of eczema (atopic dermatitis or contact dermatitis), you must get plenty of sleep. Sleep at least 8 hours every night. You might be okay with 7 hours if you don’t get irritated and drowsy later in the day.

The reason why you must get all the sleep your body needs is so that you have the willpower and mindset to not scratch. When you are tired, it is that much easier to scratch, almost without realizing it. And by the time you scratch, you have irritated the skin and started the healing process all over again.

I know lots of sleep alone might not be enough to stop scratching. I know how annoying the itch can be. I have got very good, through years of practice, of ignoring the itch. I don’t get as strong itch sensations anymore, but when I do, I never scratch.

Lastly, as long as you have the bases covered, like getting enough sleep, and eating right, use a good quality moisturizer such as the Jurlique Moisture Replenishing Day Cream or the Malin + Goetz Vitamin E Face Moisturizer.

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To recap, in the beginning stages of eczema (atopic dermatitis or allergic contact dermatitis), in the Acute stage, the eczema is very red and itchy. It is important to care for the dry skin during this stage to stop eczema from moving to the Subacute stage and then the Chronic stage. To control it, avoid eating dairy and processed foods, also reduce stress, and get more sleep.

When I was younger, I couldn’t help but scratch. If you simply cannot help but scratch, you can see a doctor for medical advice on various types of eczema. The doctor will prescribe a steroid cream to stop the itch.

The potency of the steroid cream will depend on the type of eczema you have ad its severity. Also, try making a note of each time you scratch, as this will make the act of scratching more conscious rather than subconscious.

Remember to do what you can to control eczema (atopic dermatitis or contact dermatitis) in the beginning stages so that it does not go to the following stages and get worse. Read tips on our site and see a doctor for medical advice if it gets out of hand. I wish only the best for you and your skin.