Eczema is also known as atopic dermatitis, or atopic eczema (the most common form of eczema). Eczema is a chronic skin condition in which the skin becomes itchy, reddened, cracked and dry. Approximately 30% of all skin-related GP visits in Western Europe result in a diagnosis of atopic eczema. It affects both males and females equally, as well as people from different ethnic backgrounds. Most GPs (general practitioners, primary care physicians) in Western Europe, North America and Australia say the number of people diagnosed each year with eczema is has been rising in recent years.

As atopic eczema is a chronic disease symptoms are generally present all the time. A chronic disease is a long-term one; one that persists for a long time. However, during a flare-up symptoms will worsen and the patient will probably require more intense treatment.

common symptoms of atopic eczema (without flare-up):
Atopic Eczema
Common symptoms of eczema include areas of thickened, red, itchy skin
The skin may be broken in places.
Some areas of the skin are cracked.
The skin usually feels dry.
Many areas of skin are itchy, and sometimes raw if scratched a lot.
Itching usually worse at night.
Scratching may also result in areas of thickened skin.
Some areas of skin become red and inflamed.
Some inflamed areas develop blisters and weep (ooze liquid).
The skin has red to brownish-gray colored patches.
Areas of skin may have small, raised bumps.

Experts say that people with eczema are born with it - it is a genetically inherited condition. It can be worsened with exposure to external or environmental factors such as pollen or pet fur, and internal factors such as hormone levels and stress. 

The immune system cells of people with atopic eczema release chemicals under the skin's surface which may cause inflammation. Experts are not 100% sure why this happens. They just know that it is an immune system overreaction.