Atopic Dermatitis

Atopic dermatitis is a chronic skin problem. It causes dry skin, intense itching, and then a red, raised rash. In severe cases, the rash forms clear, fluid-filled blisters. It cannot be spread from person to person.

Atopic dermatitis is most common in babies and children. Some children with atopic dermatitis outgrow it or have milder cases as they get older. Also, a person may get atopic dermatitis as an adult.

Atopic dermatitis is sometimes called eczema or atopic eczema. But atopic dermatitis is only one of many types of eczema.

The cause of atopic dermatitis is not clear.

People with atopic dermatitis seem to have very sensitive immune systems that are more likely to react to irritants and allergens. Most people who have atopic dermatitis have a personal or family history of allergies, such as hay fever (allergic rhinitis) and asthma. The skin inflammation that causes the atopic dermatitis rash is thought to be a type of allergic response.

Things that may make atopic dermatitis worse include:

  • Stress.
  • Certain foods, such as eggs, peanuts, milk, wheat, or soy products.
  • Allergens, such as dust mites or animal dander.
  • Harsh soaps or detergents.
  • Weather changes, especially dry and cold.
  • Skin infection.

Your doctor may advise allergy testing to find the things that trigger the rash.

The main symptom of atopic dermatitis is itching, followed by rash. The rash is red and patchy and may be long-lasting or may come and go. Tiny bumps or blisters may appear and ooze fluid or crust over. Scratching can cause the sores to become infected. Over time, a recurring rash can lead to tough and thickened skin.

People tend to get the rash on different parts of the body, depending on their age. Common sites include the:

  • Face
  • Neck
  • Arms
  • Legs
  • Groin area (rare)

How severe the symptoms are depends on how large an area of skin is affected. It also depends on how much you scratch the rash and whether the sores get infected. Mild atopic dermatitis usually affects a small area of skin. It does not itch much and goes away with enough moisturizing. Severe atopic dermatitis usually covers a large area of skin that is very itchy. It does not go away with moisturizing.

Although atopic dermatitis is an ongoing problem, there are things you can do to control it.

  • Use moisturizing creams and lotions often.
  • Avoid things that trigger rashes, such as harsh soaps and detergents, dander, and any other things you are allergic to.
  • Control scratching. You may want to cover the rash with a bandage to keep from rubbing it. Put mittens or cotton socks on your baby’s hands to help prevent him or her from scratching.
  • Use medicine prescribed by your doctor.
  • Bathe with cool or lukewarm — not hot — water and for short periods.

In severe cases, your doctor may prescribe pills or give you a shot to stop the itching. Or you may get ultraviolet (UV) light treatment at a clinic or doctor’s office.

If you or other family members have atopic dermatitis or other allergies, there is a chance that your baby could get it. If possible, breast-feed your baby for at least 6 months to boost the immune system and to help protect your baby.