Atopic dermatitis (AD), also known as atopic eczema, is a long-term type of inflammation of the skin (dermatitis). It results in itchy, red, swollen, and cracked skin. Clear fluid may come from the affected areas, which often thickens over time. While the condition may occur at any age, it typically starts in childhood, with changing severity over the years. In children under one year of age, much of the body may be affected. As children get older, the areas on the insides of the knees and elbows are most commonly affected. In adults, the hands and feet are most commonly affected. Scratching the affected areas worsens the symptoms, and those affected have an increased risk of skin infections. Many people with atopic dermatitis develop hay fever or asthma.
The cause is unknown but believed to involve genetics, immune system dysfunction, environmental exposures, and difficulties with the permeability of the skin. If one identical twin is affected, there is an 85% chance the other also has the condition. Those who live in cities and dry climates are more commonly affected. Exposure to certain chemicals or frequent hand washing makes symptoms worse. While emotional stress may make the symptoms worse, it is not a cause. The disorder is not contagious.
Treatment involves avoiding things that make the condition worse, daily bathing with application of a moisturizing cream afterwards, applying steroid creams when flares occur, and medications to help with itchiness. Things that commonly make it worse include wool clothing, soaps, perfumes, chlorine, dust, and cigarette smoke. Phototherapy may be useful in some people. Steroid pills or creams based on calcineurin inhibitors may occasionally be used if other measures are not effective. Antibiotics (either by mouth or topically) may be needed if a bacterial infection develops. Dietary changes are only needed if food allergies are suspected.
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