Atopic dermatitis, a form of eczema, is a chronic skin disorder that causes dry, itchy skin and often results in a red rash. It is most common in babies and children, and tends to affect those with a family history of allergies and asthma, although the actual cause is unknown. Atopic dermatitis can affect different areas of the skin, but is most commonly found on the face, neck, arms and legs. It is usually mild and can go away on its own, but may be more severe if it affects a larger area.
Although atopic dermatitis cannot be cured, it can usually be treated and controlled simply through using moisturizing lotions, avoiding harsh soaps and controlling scratching.
Eczema is the name of a group of skin conditions involving red rashes that become irritated, moist, oozing or bumpy when scratched. Atopic dermatitis, also called infantile eczema, is a common form that affects about 10 percent of children. Symptoms almost always appear before the age of 5 and include dry, itchy, red, bumpy skin on the face or scalp that may crust over and spread to other areas of the body. The condition often improves and worsens cyclically over time, with flare-ups commonly occurring at puberty, but most patients outgrow the condition by the end of adolescence.
Causes Of Eczema
While the precise cause of eczema is unknown, certain substances or circumstances can trigger symptoms in susceptible individuals. Patients with eczema may have adverse skin reactions to many common household products, such as soaps, perfumes, lotions or detergents, as well as to animal dander. They may also develop eczema outbreaks as a result of upper respiratory infections. In some cases, eczema may occur from a food allergy.
Although eczema is quite common in infants, most outgrow it by the age of 2. For infants prone to outbreaks, it is best to avoid using products or fabrics that may irritate their skin, and to avoid feeding them foods that seem to precipitate reactions. For adults, too, the best treatment for eczema may be prevention. By avoiding triggers such as coarse fabrics, extreme hot or cold, animal dander and certain soaps or detergents, patients may be able to keep outbreaks at bay. Although stress is often a factor that worsens the condition, eczema itself, with its discomfort and displeasing appearance, can also be a cause of stress.
Symptoms Of Eczema
Eczema usually appears as a red rash on the skin, and can include the following symptoms:
- Raised crusty patches
- Blisters that ooze
- Dry or scaly skin
Skin discoloration can also be a symptom of eczema.
Diagnosis Of Eczema
Eczema is diagnosed by physical examination and patient consultation. It is important that, in addition to a full patient history, the attending doctor take a full family history.
Because many people with eczema often have other allergies, allergy tests may be prescribed or performed so that possible triggers can be targeted.
Treatment Of Eczema
There are several treatments available to ease the discomforts of eczema. Cold compresses and over-the-counter preparations to address itching may be recommended. If symptoms persist or become more severe, stronger medications may be prescribed. It is important to treat eczema symptoms because the condition breaches the integrity of the skin, allowing bacteria to invade and cause infection. Itching has to be addressed because scratching can lead to crusting and scabbing of the skin, further breaking down tissues, and increasing the risk of infection.
Treatment of eczema may include the following:
- Topical corticosteroids
- Changes in bathing and laundering habits
- Antibiotics (if infection is present)
- Immunomodulators (such as cyclosporine)
Because both phototherapy and immunomodulators have been linked to an elevated risk of cancer, they are usually prescribed only during severe flareups, and for children older than 2 years of age.