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RIVERSIDE, Mo. — Jeff Longnecker first had red patches on his legs. Over time, they cropped up all over his body.

“Everyday was I felt like truthfully, I didn’t want to be alive. It was burning, itching. The way I describe it is like an itch on your nose you can’t itch. That feeling all over your body,” said Jeff.

It’s eczema. The cause is unknown, but it’s likely the result of an overactive immune system. Jeff’s case is an extreme example of the skin condition that the American Academy of Dermatology said is becoming more common with up to 20 percent of kids affected and up to three percent of adults.

Dr. Molly Menser of Sunflower Dermatology in Riverside said there’s a genetic component.

“We do see it more frequently in families either with asthma, seasonal allergies or other people with atopic dermatitis or eczema,” said Dr. Menser.

But our increasingly sterile environment may play a role, too.

“We wonder — is there something we’re doing by being such a clean society, by using disinfectants and hand sanitizers. Are we doing something that reduces sort of the bacteria tha tare healthy bacteria that live in our skin,” said Dr. Menser.

The good news is that most eczema can be controlled with moisturizing cream and topical ointments. But Jeff needs pills, too. His eczema can even make it hard to move. And there’s the social stigma.

“Just try to understand if you see somebody with weird-looking skin, it’s not something usually they’ve done to themselves,” said Jeff.

He said with medical treatment and the support of loved ones, he’s now able to cope with eczema.