Atopic Dermatitis

What is Atopic Dermatitis

Atopic dermatitis is a skin disorder that causes inflammation of the skin. This is the most common type of eczema. Eczema is a group of skin conditions that cause the skin to be itchy, red, and swollen.

This condition is generally worse during the cooler winter months and often improves during the warm summer months. Symptoms can vary from person to person.

Atopic dermatitis usually starts showing signs in infancy and can last through adulthood. This condition cannot be passed from one person to another (non-contagious), but it is more common in families. Atopic dermatitis may not always be present. When it is present, it is called a flare-up.

What are the causes?

The exact cause of this condition is not known. Flare-ups of the condition may be triggered by:

  • Contact with something that you are sensitive or allergic to.
  • Stress.
  • Certain foods.
  • Extremely hot or cold weather.
  • Harsh chemicals and soaps.
  • Dry air.
  • Chlorine.

What increases the risk?

This condition is more likely to develop in people who have a personal history or family history of eczema, allergies, asthma, or hay fever.

What are the signs or symptoms?

Symptoms of this condition include:

  • Dry, scaly skin.
  • Red, itchy rash.
  • Itchiness, which can be severe. This may occur before the skin rash. This can make sleeping difficult.
  • Skin thickening and cracking that can occur over time.

How is this diagnosed?

This condition is diagnosed based on your symptoms, a medical history, and a physical exam.

How is this treated?

There is no cure for this condition, but symptoms can usually be controlled. Treatment focuses on:

  • Controlling the itchiness and scratching. You may be given medicines, such as antihistamines or steroid creams.
  • Limiting exposure to things that you are sensitive or allergic to (allergens).
  • Recognizing situations that cause stress and developing a plan to manage stress.

If your atopic dermatitis does not get better with medicines, or if it is all over your body (widespread), a treatment using a specific type of light (phototherapy) may be used.

Follow these instructions at home:

Skin care

  • Keep your skin well-moisturized. Doing this seals in moisture and helps to prevent dryness.
    • Use unscented lotions that have petroleum in them.
    • Avoid lotions that contain alcohol or water. They can dry the skin.
  • Keep baths or showers short (less than 5 minutes) in warm water. Do notuse hot water.
    • Use mild, unscented cleansers for bathing. Avoid soap and bubble bath.
    • Apply a moisturizer to your skin right after a bath or shower.

Do notapply anything to your skin without checking with your health care provider.

General instructions

  • Dress in clothes made of cotton or cotton blends. Dress lightly because heat increases itchiness.
  • When washing your clothes, rinse your clothes twice so all of the soap is removed.
  • Avoid any triggers that can cause a flare-up.
  • Try to manage your stress.
  • Keep your fingernails cut short.
  • Avoid scratching. Scratching makes the rash and itchiness worse. It may also result in a skin infection (impetigo) due to a break in the skin caused by scratching.
  • Take or apply over-the-counter and prescription medicines only as told by your health care provider.
  • Keep all follow-up visits as told by your health care provider. This is important.
  • Do notbe around people who have cold sores or fever blisters. If you get the infection, it may cause your atopic dermatitis to worsen.

Contact a health care provider if:

  • Your itchiness interferes with sleep.
  • Your rash gets worse or it is not better within one week of starting treatment.
  • You have a fever.
  • You have a rash flare-up after having contact with someone who has cold sores or fever blisters.

Get help right away if:

  • You develop pus or soft yellow scabs in the rash area.


  • This condition causes a red rash and itchy, dry, scaly skin.
  • Treatment focuses on controlling the itchiness and scratching, limiting exposure to things that you are sensitive or allergic to (allergens), recognizing situations that cause stress, and developing a plan to manage stress.
  • Keep your skin well-moisturized.
  • Keep baths or showers shorter than 5 minutes and use warm water. Do notuse hot water.

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