Atopic dermatitis, also known as eczema, causes chronic skin irritation. This disease is often genetic and causes a skin barrier dysfunction which results in increased skin sensitivity to the environment. The increased skin sensitivity causes an itch sensation, which in turn causes scratching. Scratching can worsen the itching or also break the skin barrier, increasing the risk of infection.
Atopic dermatitis is treatable. Receiving proper treatment early helps prevent the disease from becoming worse. Start by seeking medical treatment and avoiding anything that causes flare-ups. Otherwise, the skin inflammation may worsen and become complicated by scarring or infection.
Atopic dermatitis symptoms can appear anywhere on the body. But, in most cases they vary based on the patient’s age. In infants as young as 2 or 3 months old, irritation appears mainly on the cheeks, on the scalp, or under the eyelids. In children aged 2 through puberty, the skin folds, such as the backs of the knees, are most often affected. In adults, symptoms usually affect the creases of the elbows or knees, or the nape of the neck. They can also appear on the face or around the eyes. Patches of skin can become dry, red, itchy and scaly.
Recognizing What Causes Flare-Ups
Atopic dermatitis symptoms can flare because of many factors. These include dryness, sweating, stress, or allergens, such as dust or wool. To pinpoint what causes atopic dermatitis to flare, keep a list of factors that seem to affect your skin. Then, write them down in a notebook or diary. The factors that affect each person vary. So, keep a list and try to avoid those triggers.
A healthcare provider will begin by looking at the skin and examining for rashes. Questions will be asked regarding the symptoms. It is important to note whether the skin is itchy. Also, it is helpful to know if there are blood relatives that have been diagnosed with atopic dermatitis, asthma, or hay fever. Occasionally additional tests may be performed to rule out other causes of dermatitis which may resemble eczema.
Treatment can help control atopic dermatitis. It is important because it can:
- Prevent symptoms from getting worse
- Relieve the pain and itching
- Prevent infections
- Reduce any emotional stress
A treatment plan often includes moisturizing skin care and anti-inflammatory topical or oral medications. Although a simple, non-medicated moisturizing cream may be used on a daily basis, steroid creams are commonly prescribed for more severe episodes of itching. These creams effectively reduce inflammation, which in turn relieves itching. Use these carefully and only as directed by your healthcare provider. Oral medications may also be prescribed. Among medications you may be given are antihistamines, antibiotics, or corticosteroids.
What to Do
Caring for Your Skin
- Do moisturize your skin on a daily basis, even when symptoms are not present. After bathing, gently pat your skin dry, don’t rub. Apply moisturizer while your skin is still damp. Use hypoallergenic or fragrance-free products when possible.
- Do use topical or oral medicines as recommended by your healthcare provider for the full course of treatment. Do not stop medicines sooner than recommended unless your healthcare provider approves.
- Take warm, not hot, baths. For a soothing bath, add oil or oatmeal to the water.
- Do keep fingernails very short, to minimize the damage that may be done by absent-minded scratching. Wear loose-fitting cotton clothing that does not bind or rub the skin.
Controlling Your Environment
- Avoid extremes of heat or cold.
- Avoid very humid or very dry air.
- If your home or office air is very dry, use a humidifier.
- Avoid allergens, such as dust, that may be present in bedding, carpets, plush toys, or rugs.
- Know that pet hair and dander can cause flare-ups.
- Do wash clothing and linens in fragrance-free soap, and double rinse when possible, to minimize irritating soap or detergent residues. Use fragrance-free dryer sheets as well.
What We Have Learned
- Atopic dermatitis causes chronic skin irritation.
True or False
The answer is True
- Atopic dermatitis symptoms can appear anywhere on the body.
True or False
The answer is True
- Treatment cannot help control atopic dermatitis.
True or False
The answer is False
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