Atopic Dermatitis / Eczema

Atopic dermatitis, or eczema, is a hereditary and chronic skin disorder that causes the skin to turn red, itch, and flake. Mostly affecting infants or very young children, it may last until the child reaches adolescence or adulthood. Parents with eczema are more likely to have children with eczema.

Different triggers can make eczema worse, including environmental irritants, allergies, and stress. Eczema tends to flare up during times of stress, when the temperature is extremely high or low, when the skin is irritated by fabrics (wool) or detergents, or due to a bacterial infection.

What are the symptoms of atopic dermatitis / eczema?

The appearance of eczema may change with age. In infants and young children, eczema is normally located on the face, outside of the elbows, and on the knees. In older children and adults, eczema tends to be on the hands and feet, the arms, and on the back of the knees. Excessive rubbing and scratching can tear the skin and result in an infection.

Each person may experience symptoms differently. The following are the most common symptoms of eczema:

•    Dry, scaly skin

•    Small bumps that open and ooze when scratched

•    Redness and swelling of the skin

•    Thickening of the skin (with chronic eczema)

How is atopic dermatitis diagnosed?

Atopic dermatitis is very common, over 15 million American adults and children suffer from it and at least 20 percent of infants and children experience symptoms of atopic dermatitis.

In addition to a complete medical history and physical examination, diagnostic procedures for eczema may include the following:

•    Blood tests

•    Personal history of allergies or asthma

•    Family history (Children born to a mother who has allergic conditions are more prone to eczema.)

What are the treatments and management of atopic dermatitis / eczema?

There is no cure for eczema. Treatment is aimed to reduce itching and inflammation of the skin, moisturizing the skin, and preventing infection.

The following are suggestions for the management of eczema:

•    Minimize stress

•    Avoid contact with irritants

•    Avoid scratching the affected area

•    Practice healthy skin care techniques

•    Take baths or showers using lukewarm water

•    Do not use harsh soaps

•    Use lubricating lotions on a daily basis

•    Dress in light clothes to reduce sweating

For severe cases, dermatologists may prescribe medications and treatments, including antihistamines, steroid creams, and oral antibiotics. The symptoms of eczema may resemble other skin conditions; always consult a doctor for a diagnosis.