What's in this article?
What is Atopic Dermatitis
This is a common skin disease in children. It is so common that people have given it a few names:
- Eczema (name most people use)
- Atopic (a-top-ic) eczema
- Atopic dermatitis
To avoid confusion, we’ll use the medical term atopic dermatitis.
Children often get atopic dermatitis (AD) during their first year of life. If a child gets AD during this time, dry and scaly patches appear on the skin. These patches often appear on the scalp, forehead, and face. These patches are very common on the cheeks.
No matter where it appears, AD is often very itchy. Infants may rub their skin against bedding or carpeting to relieve the itch.
In children of all ages, the itch can be so intense that a child cannot sleep. Scratching can lead to a skin infection.
Because atopic dermatitis can be long lasting, it is important to learn how to take care of the skin. Treatment and good skin care can alleviate much of the discomfort.
Causes of Atopic Dermatitis
The cause of atopic dermatitis isn’t clear, but it affects your skin’s ability to hold moisture. Your skin becomes dry, itchy, and easily irritated.
Most people who have atopic dermatitis have a personal or family history of allergies, such as hay fever (allergic rhinitis) or asthma.
Things that may make atopic dermatitis worse include:
- Allergens, such as dust mites or animal dander.
- Harsh soaps or detergents.
- Weather changes, especially dry and cold.
- An allergic reaction to certain foods, such as eggs, peanuts, milk, wheat, fish, or soy products.
- Skin infection.
Symptoms of Atopic Dermatitis
Atopic dermatitis (eczema) signs and symptoms vary widely from person to person and include:
- Itching, which may be severe, especially at night
- Red to brownish-gray patches, especially on the hands, feet, ankles, wrists, neck, upper chest, eyelids, inside the bend of the elbows and knees, and, in infants, the face and scalp
- Small, raised bumps, which may leak fluid and crust over when scratched
- Thickened, cracked, dry, scaly skin
- Raw, sensitive, swollen skin from scratching
Atopic dermatitis most often begins before age 5 and may persist into adolescence and adulthood. For some people, it flares periodically and then clears up for a time, even for several years.
Treatment for Atopic Dermatitis
Treatment cannot cure AD, but it can control AD. Treatment is important because it can:
- Prevent the AD from getting worse.
- Calm the skin, relieving pain and itch.
- Reduce emotional stress.
- Prevent infections.
- Stop the skin from thickening. Thickened skin often itches all the time — even when the AD is not flaring.
A treatment plan often includes medicine, skin care, and lifestyle changes. Skin care and lifestyle changes can help prevent flare-ups. Many patients receive tips for coping. Doing all of this may seem bothersome, but sticking to the plan can make a big difference.
A dermatologist will create a treatment plan tailored to the patient’s needs. Medicine and other therapies will be prescribed as needed to:
- Control itching.
- Reduce skin inflammation (redness and swelling).
- Clear infection.
- Loosen and remove scaly lesions.
- Reduce new lesions from forming.
What is 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.
Causes of Eczema
The exact cause of eczema is unknown, but it’s thought to be linked to an overactive response by the body’s immune system to an irritant. It is this response that causes the symptoms.
In addition, eczema is commonly found in families with a history of other allergies or asthma. Also, defects in the skin barrier could allow moisture out and germs in.
Symptoms of Eczema
Typically, inflamed areas of skin tend to flare up from time to time, and then tend to settle down. The severity and duration of flare-ups varies from person to person, and from time to time in the same person.
- In mild cases, a flare-up may cause just one or two small, mild patches of inflammation. Often these are behind the knees, or in front of elbows or wrists. Flare-ups may occur only now and then.
- In severe cases, the flare-ups can last several weeks or more, and cover many areas of skin. This can cause great distress.
- Many people with atopic eczema are somewhere in between these extremes.
Treatment for Eczema
- Avoiding irritants to the skin and other triggers wherever possible.
- Emollients (moisturisers) – used every day to help prevent inflammation developing.
- Topical steroids (steroid creams and ointments) – mainly used when inflammation flares up
Difference Between Atopic Dermatitis and Eczema
Eczema is a nonspecific term for many types of skin inflammation (dermatitis). There are different categories of eczema, which include allergic, contact, irritant, and nummular eczema, which can be difficult to distinguish from atopic dermatitis. These types of eczema are listed and briefly described below. Atopy is a medical syndrome that includes three associated conditions that tend to occur in the same individual: atopic dermatitis, inhalant allergies, and asthma. All three components need not be present in the same individual simultaneously.