Atopic dermatitis is a chronic skin disorder. It causes dry, itchy, scaly patches on the skin, often on the face and scalp in babies. It’s most common in infants or very young children. Most will show signs of the condition in the first year of life. Symptoms may last until the teens or adulthood. It rarely starts in adulthood. Atopic dermatitis is not contagious.
Atopic dermatitis tends to run in families. This suggests a genetic link. It’s also associated with asthma and allergies. These are immune hypersensitivity disorders.
Treatment for this condition is aimed at calming the skin inflammation, decreasing the itching, and preventing infections. Good skin care and medicine to control itching and infection are used.
Atopic dermatitis is often called eczema.
The exact cause of atopic dermatitis is not known. It runs in families, which suggests a genetic link. It’s also linked to asthma and allergies. There is likely an alteration of the proteins in the skin that leads to atopic dermatitis.
Certain triggers can make atopic dermatitis worse. For example, stress, hot or cold temperature, dry conditions, certain fabrics, or detergents can cause a flare-up.
The area of the body affected by atopic dermatitis may change with age. In infants and young children, it usually affects the face, outside of the elbows, and on the knees. In older children and adults, it tends to be on the hands and feet, the arms, on the back of the knees, and the folds of the elbows.
Symptoms are slightly different for each person. Common symptoms include:
Too much rubbing and scratching can tear the skin and lead to infection.
The symptoms of atopic dermatitis may look like other skin conditions. Always talk with your healthcare provider for a diagnosis.
Your healthcare provider will ask about your health history and whether you have allergies or asthma. He or she will also ask about any family history of dermatitis, allergies, or asthma.
A healthcare provider can often diagnose atopic dermatitis by examining your skin. You may also have a patch test. This is used to find allergies by placing small amounts of allergens on the skin and watching for a response. A skin biopsy may also be done to rule out other causes of the rash.
Factors such as your age, overall health, and health history will help your healthcare provider find the best treatment for you.
There is no cure for atopic dermatitis. The goals of treatment are to reduce itching and inflammation of the skin, to keep the skin moist, and to prevent infection.
Your healthcare provider may also prescribe medicines in severe cases. The following are commonly used to treat atopic dermatitis:
Complications of atopic dermatitis include:
The following steps can help manage atopic dermatitis:
© 2015 The University of Chicago Medical Center. All rights reserved.
The University of Chicago Medicine
5841 S. Maryland Avenue
Chicago, IL 60637 | 773-702-1000
Appointments: Call UCM Connect at 1-888-824-0200