Atopic dermatitis also known as eczema or atopic eczema is a condition that makes your skin red and itchy. It is a very common condition in children but can occur at any age. Atopic dermatitis is a chronic condition that tends to flare periodically and then subside. It may be accompanied by asthma or hay fever.
Unfortunately there is no cure for atopic dermatitis, however, treatments and self-care measures can relieve itching and prevent new outbreaks.
What are signs and symptoms of Atopic Dermatitis?
Though they vary widely from person to person signs and symptoms may 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 continue into adolescence and adulthood. For some people, it flares periodically and then clears up for a time, even for several years.
What can worsen Atopic Dermatitis?
Most people with atopic dermatitis also have Staphylococcus aureus bacteria on their skin. The staph bacteria multiply rapidly when the skin barrier is broken and fluid is present on the skin. This in turn may worsen symptoms, particularly in young children. Atopic dermatitis is also related to allergies. But eliminating allergens is rarely helpful in clearing the condition. Occasionally, items that trap dust — such as feather pillows, down comforters, mattresses, carpeting and drapes — can worsen the condition.
The exact cause of atopic dermatitis (eczema) is unknown. Healthy skin helps retain moisture and protects you from bacteria, irritants and allergens. The following can worsen Atopic Dermatitis:
- Dry skin, which can result from long, hot baths or showers
- Scratching, which causes further skin damage
- Bacteria and viruses
- Solvents, cleaners, soaps and detergents
- Wool in clothing, blankets and carpets
- Dust and pollen
- Tobacco smoke and air pollution
- Eggs, milk, peanuts, soybeans, fish and wheat, in infants and children
- A gene variation that affects the skin’s barrier function
- Immune system dysfunction
- Bacteria, such as Staphylococcus aureus, on the skin that creates a film that blocks sweat glands
- Other environmental conditions such as changes in heat and humidity
What are some risk factors for developing Atopic Dermatitis?
- A personal or family history of eczema, allergies, hay fever or asthma
- Being a health care worker, which is linked to hand dermatitis
- Living in urban areas
- Being African-American
- Having parents with a high level of education
- Attending child care
- Having attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
What are some complications of Atopic Dermatitis?
- Asthma and hay fever. Eczema sometimes precedes these conditions.
- Chronic itchy, scaly skin. A skin condition called neurodermatitis (lichen simplex chronicus) starts with a patch of itchy skin. You scratch the area, which makes it even itchier. Eventually, you may scratch simply out of habit. This condition can cause the affected skin to become discolored, thick and leathery.
- Skin infections. Repeated scratching that breaks the skin can cause open sores and cracks. These increase your risk of infection from bacteria and viruses, including the herpes simplex virus.
- Eye problems. Signs and symptoms of eye complications include severe itching around the eyelids, eye watering, inflammation of the eyelid (blepharitis) and inflammation of the eyelid (conjunctivitis).
- Irritant hand dermatitis. This especially affects people whose work requires that their hands are often wet and exposed to harsh soaps, detergents and disinfectants.
- Allergic contact dermatitis. This condition is common in patients with atopic dermatitis. Many substances can cause an allergic skin reaction, including corticosteroids, drugs often used to treat people with atopic dermatitis.
- Sleep problems. The itch-scratch cycle can cause you to awaken repeatedly and decrease the quality of your sleep.
- Behavioral problems. Studies show a link between atopic dermatitis and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, especially if a child is also losing sleep.