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What is Xerotic Eczema?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 22 August 2016
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Xerotic eczema is a dermatological condition characterized by dry, cracking skin. Like other forms of eczema, xerotic eczema is a chronic inflammatory condition. Many people experience eczema at various points during their lives and for some patients, it can become a recurring health problem. There are a number of treatments available for xerotic eczema, some of which can be obtained over the counter.

The term “xerotic” means dry, and this form of eczema is indeed caused by exposure to dry conditions. It commonly happens in the winter when people are in heated spaces with low humidity and is sometimes called winter eczema, or dessication dermatitis. People in desert climates can also be at risk, as can people who work in wet environments. While this may sound counter-intuitive, water is actually very drying for the skin because it strips away the oils in the outer layers and leaves the skin vulnerable to cracking.

There are several angles of attack that can be taken to address xerotic eczema. One option is to improve the environment. Using a humidifier can make the environment more moist, supporting the skin and preventing dryness. People can also take shorter baths and showers and use intensive moisturizers immediately afterward to keep the skin moist and supple. Deep moisturizers and bath oils are available from many drug and body care stores and sometimes a few weeks of careful over-the-counter treatment will resolve the cracked, dry, flaky skin characteristic of xerotic eczema.

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For patients with eczema that has progressed or is painful, medications may be needed. Topical steroid ointments can be used to suppress the immune responses that contribute to eczema, while also moisturizing and soothing the skin. Oral medications may also be used to control eczema, depending on the severity of the patient's case. A dermatologist can also evaluate a patient in case the irritated skin is actually the result of contact dermatitis, an infection, or another dermatological problem that moisturizer alone cannot solve.

Xerotic eczema is not contagious or dangerous. It is primarily an aesthetic concern, with some patients feeling uncomfortable while their skin is red, scaly, and bumpy during an outbreak. People who experience recurrent eczema may want to consult a dermatologist about more aggressive treatment options that can limit and prevent outbreaks. It can also be useful to be evaluated for allergies and other health problems that may be exacerbating the eczema.

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