Atopic dermatitis is the most common form of eczema (i.e. an itchy rash), affecting between 10-20% of children and 1-3% of adults. It is characterized by dry, red, irritated and itchy skin. Sometimes, particularly when infected, eczematous skin may have small, fluid-filled bumps that ooze a clear or yellowish liquid. Scratching or rubbing can make the itching and rash worse and often the rash will not even appear unless the skin is scratched. For this reason atopic dermatitis is often referred to as an ‘itch that rashes’.
Who gets atopic dermatitis?
Atopic dermatitis is most common in infants, but can also develop in children and adults. People are more likely to develop atopic dermatitis if:
- They have asthma, hay fever, or food allergies
- They have a parent who had or has asthma, hay fever, food allergies, or atopic dermatitis
How is atopic dermatitis diagnosed?
- First, your allergist will look at your rash, ask about your symptoms, and ask about you and your parent’s history of asthma and allergies.
- Then your allergist will try to find out the cause of the rash by asking about your contact with things that may irritate your skin, such as soaps, detergents, skin care products, and wool clothing.
- If it seems an allergy may have caused your dermatitis, allergy testing (either skin or blood testing) may be utilized to find out what you are allergic to.
How is atopic dermatitis treated?
Atopic dermatitis cannot be cured but it can be controlled by staying away from things that make it worse, treating the symptoms with medicine, and taking good care of your skin.
Take these steps:
- If you know what you are allergic to, stay away from those allergens.
- Avoid things that can irritate your skin, such as:
- Scratchy fabrics like wool and polyester. Wear loose-fitting clothing made of soft fabrics like cotton and cotton-blend materials.
- New clothing, bedding, and towels. Wash new fabrics before you use them.
- Extreme hot and cold temperatures. The cold can dry your skin, and the hot can make you sweat, which can irritate your skin.
- Scented soaps. Use scent-free or perfume-free soaps for your skin, dishes, and laundry. Avoid fabric softeners, including dryer sheets.
- Cleaning products. Wear heavy-duty vinyl gloves with cotton liners when you are working with cleaning products. If you’re allergic to latex, avoid gloves that are labeled “latex” or “natural rubber.”
- Care for your skin.
- Don’t scratch or rub the itchy areas. This can cause an infection or scarring. If your child has atopic dermatitis, keep his or her fingernails short.
- Use a moisturizer every day.
- Look for moisturizers that are more greasy than creamy. Creams tend to have ingredients that can irritate the skin.
- When you can, soak in a warm bath, and then gently pat your skin dry and put a moisturizer on your skin. This helps seal in the moisture.
- Use a mild unscented soap for “sensitive skin.”
- Learn how to manage stress in your life.
- Atopic dermatitis can get worse when you’re stressed. Relaxation exercises can help.
- Topical steroids can be used to treat the rash and relieve itching.
- If this doesn’t work, antihistamine or corticosteroid pills can be used.
- Other medicines often prescribed are immunomodulators that are applied to the skin as ointments or creams.