What is Atopic Dermatitis?


Atopic dermatitis, also known as eczema, is the most common inflammatory skin disease worldwide. 1 in 10 Americans has atopic dermatitis*. It typically begins in infancy but can affect all ages. Although the exact cause is not known, it is thought to be due to a combination of both genetic and environmental factors. Atopic dermatitis causes dry, itchy red skin, and rashes caused by this condition tend to flare, improve, and then flare again. Individuals with seasonal allergies, asthma, or a family history of Atopic dermatitis are more prone to developing this condition. Severe cases can cause intense itching with painful wounds that are prone to secondary infections. The symptoms of Atopic dermatitis can significantly affect a person's quality of life. It can disrupt sleep, affect concentration and lead to irritability or depression.

Other symptoms of atopic dermatitis include:

  • Scaly, thickened skin
  • Rashes that weep clear fluid
  • Cracked painful skin that sometimes bleeds
  • Accentuated skin creases on the palm of the hands and under the eyes

Common things that can trigger atopic dermatitis:

  • Harsh soaps and detergents
  • Skincare products with fragrances or perfumes
  • Certain types of material such as wool or paper which dries the skin
  • Mold, pollen, or animal dander
  • Tobacco smoke
  • Stress
  • Dry winter air/low humidity
  • Sweating
  • Certain foods (usually eggs, dairy products, wheat, soy, and nuts)

There is no cure for Atopic dermatitis, but many treatments are available to help control symptoms. Regular use of moisturizers such as Cetaphil, CereVe, or Vanicream helps keep skin hydrated. It is best to apply these immediately after showering when the skin is still wet. Keeping the skin moisturized helps control itching and reduces flares. Topical steroids can be used sparingly to treat rashes and itching. Other treatments available include non-steroid creams and a medication given as an injection every 2 weeks. Antihistamines such as Claritin or Zyrtec are used regularly to help control itching.

It is impossible to predict if an individual's Atopic dermatitis will improve over time. Atopic dermatitis can be aggravated or reappear in adulthood, as sensitive skin typically persists throughout life. Schedule a skin exam with your dermatologist if you are experiencing itchy, red rashes that come and go. Allergy testing can also be done to help identify triggers. It is best to consult a dermatologist to evaluate possible triggers and establish a treatment plan.

Sarah Kincaid, PA-C
Christie Clinic Department of Dermatology

*American Academy of Dermatology