Atopic Dermatitis

Atopic dermatitis is one of the most common skin problems today. A form of eczema - a condition which causes skin to become red, swollen and painful - this disorder causes chronic itching eruptions, or breakouts. Though there is no cure, about 50% of children outgrow the disorder and treatment plans are available that make the ailment manageable while symptoms persist.


Atopic dermatitis usually begins during infancy or early childhood. Symptoms include itchy, red patches on the skin that may crust, scale or ooze. These can develop as early as between the ages of two to twelve months and generally will appear on the face, torso, and outside of the arms and legs.

When the child reaches two to four years of age, the rash may affect the elbow and knee creases, neck, wrists, ankles and feet. Clusters of red or flesh colored bumps or scaly patches will appear in these areas. Skin may also become drier, thicker and more noticeably creased.

Once the patient reaches adolescence, the rash may become more predominant on the sides of the neck, hands, feet and face. Accentuated creasing of the skin is also more common at this stage.

Bacterial infections frequently occur with this disorder during all of its stages. These infections produce redness and itching and may cause crusting, oozing and ulcers to develop on the skin.


The main goal of treatment is to eliminate the itching which provokes the other symptoms and causes the most discomfort. (Itching makes the sufferer scratch the irritated skin, causing outbreaks to occur and bacterial infections to develop.)

Itching is minimized by keeping the skin moist. This can be accomplished by applying emollients, or moisturizers, both after bathing and one to two other times during the day. Tepid rather than hot water is recommended for bathing as hot water may induce itching.

Avoid taking showers, since this washes the oils off the skin. This promotes dryness and therefore aggravates the itching and other problems seen in such patients.

Soft cotton fabrics are advised for clothing. Wools, polyesters and other scratchy materials should be avoided. Mild soaps and detergents should be used for washing and fabric softeners should be avoided as they can be irritating to the skin.

Oral antihistamines may be taken as part of this regimen, as well.

An allergist can help a patient develop a systematic treatment program to keep skin moist and alleviate itching. If a flare-up occurs or a secondary infection develops, medications such as cortisone cream can be prescribed to treat them. So, even though there is no cure for atopic dermatitis, there's no reason why a patient should suffer from its symptoms.

* Information from American Academy of Allergy & Immunology.