What is Atopic Dermatitis?

Atopic dermatitis, or atopic eczema, is a red, itchy rash that is not contagious. It often appears in childhood and may be triggered by an allergic reaction to something in the environment. Atopic dermatitis can appear anywhere on the body, but it most often occurs in parts of the body that bend, such as behind the knees or elbows. Atopic dermatitis is a chronic allergic condition.

Atopic dermatitis is the most severe kind of dermatitis (eczema), and it happens when people have an allergic response within their skin. People with atopic dermatitis also tend to have other reactions such as allergies, asthma, and hay fever. Although there are many kinds of eczema, atopic dermatitis is the most common, and this is usually what people are referring to when they talk about eczema. Other kinds of eczema include contact dermatitis, seborrheic dermatitis, nummular, dyshidrotic, and others.

Symptoms of atopic dermatitis include an intense itch, redness, dry skin, a scaly or leathery appearance, weeping or oozing, and swelling. Atopic eczema occurs in patches and is not usually found over the entire body. Symptoms may come and go and are often worse in winter. Active symptoms, known as a flare, are often caused by a specific trigger such as chemical irritants, dry indoor air, stress, a viral infection, or allergens.

Treatment involves avoiding triggers, moisturizing thoroughly and regularly, and protecting the skin from irritation (for instance, from scratching or hot showers). Severe flares may require treatment with hydrocortisone cream, a lotion that reduces inflammation. In the most serious cases, there are medications and treatments, such as UV therapy, that may offer relief.
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