Atopic dermatitis, the most common type of eczema, is aesthetically similar to hives at first glance. Eczema's symptoms include red patches of itchy skin often accompanied by small, raised bumps and cracked skin. As is the case with hives, it tends to appear behind the knees, around ankles, wrists, face, neck and the upper chest area, and it can even affect the area around your eyes, including the eyelids. Unlike hives, though, eczema doesn't go away permanently.
Although the exact cause of eczema is unknown, it's thought to be linked with dry and irritated skin as well as an overactive immune system, which may cause the body to trigger allergic reactions when they're not necessary. It's also commonly linked with Staphylococcus bacteria, which can increase the severity of the symptoms. The symptoms can also be worsened by stress, sweating, dry skin, low humidity, dust, cigarette smoke, foods and wool or manmade clothing.
Eczema might look like hives on the surface, but where treatment is concerned, it's completely different. Even though eczema has been associated with allergies, getting rid of allergens is rarely helpful to the condition. Treatment is limited to things that lessen the pain of eczema, including corticosteroid creams and antihistamines to relieve itching, oral corticosteroids to decrease inflammation, and immunomodulators, which work with the immune system to reduce flare-ups. Light therapy is also known to be effective in dealing with eczema because ultraviolet rays can slow the inflammatory process [source: WebMD].