Atopic Dermatitis

Atopic dermatitis is a skin condition where scaly, reddened patches appear on the body. The most common sites for atopic dermatitis are the bend of the elbow, behind the knees, and on the hands and feet. However, the rash can show up just about anywhere.

The term atopic means “sensitive to allergens,” and dermatitis means “skin inflammation.”

There are many allergens and irritants that appear to make this condition worse. Atopic dermatitis is a chronic, long-term skin condition that affects both sexes equally, occurs during childhood, and can persist into adulthood. When atopic dermatitis affects an infant, it is called infantile eczema.


The exact cause of this type of eczema is unknown, although there are possible culprits such as food allergies and irritants. It often runs alongside asthma or hay fever, and is known to run in families.

Many people with this skin condition have excessive Staphylococcus arueus bacteria on their skin. This bacteria multiplies when the skin barrier is disrupted, making symptoms worse. Factors that aggravate or trigger flare-ups of atopic dermatitis are:

  • Dry skin
  • Excessive bathing
  • Swimming
  • Emotional stress
  • Low humidity
  • Use of harsh cleansers, detergents, or solvents
  • Rapid changes in temperature
  • Sweating
  • Wool and man-made fabrics
  • Cigarette smoke, fumes, and pollution
  • Living in a urban area
  • Other infections and flu


Mild cases of atopic dermatitis result in dry, itchy skin. Some people develop reddened patches of scaly, crusting skin. When the skin is scratched, it can become inflamed, bleeding, and cracked.  Itching can vary from ‘now and then’ to throughout the day and night.

Atopic dermatitis is found on the backs of knees, elbow creases and hands, but also on feet, ankles, wrists, neck and waist.

Common signs and symptoms of atopic dermatitis include:

  • Thickened, scaly, and/or cracked skin
  • Reddish-brown or gray colored skin patches
  • Severe itching, worse at night
  • Small, raised bumps that leak clear fluid
  • Raw, reddened, and sensitive skin


There are loads more treatments for atopic dermatitis available now from when I was a kid. Also we now know that most cases clear up significantly at about 16 years of age. Treatment is aimed at reducing inflammation, lessening symptoms, and preventing flare-ups.


  • Corticosteroid creams and ointments – There are several over-the-counter corticosteroid creams and ointments available, as well as prescription strength solutions. These offer relief of symptoms for many patients. Examples include hydrocortisone and betamethasone.
  • Corticosteroid pills and injections – For severe flare-ups of atopic dermatitis, the doctor may prescribe a short course of oral corticosteroids, such as prednisone. Also, injectable forms are used, such as dexamethasone and solu-medrol.
  • Antibiotics – When the skin develops an infection, the doctor may prescribe oral antibiotics for seven to ten days.
  • Antihistamine pills and creams – Antihistamines block the release of histamine onto the skin and into the bloodstream. Examples of antihistamines include Benadryl, Zyrtec, and Claritin.
  • Immunomodulators – These medications affect the immune system to reduce flare-ups and maintain normal skin texture. Examples include pimecrolimus (Elidel) and tacrolimus (Protopic).


  • Phototherapy – Also called light therapy, phototherapy involves treatment with natural or artificial light. Sunlight or ultraviolet light is used to control flare-ups.
  • Cool compresses – For severely irritated skin, cool and wet compresses can offer some relief. Also an ice pack wrapped in a t-shirt. This also prevents scratching of inflamed rash areas.
  • Emollients and moisturizers – To keep the skin lubricated, experts recommend the use of emollients and moisturizers, such as coconut oil.

Practical Tips for Controlling Atopic Dermatitis

  • Keep skin moisturized
  • Avoid known triggers
  • Consult doctor when changing diet, especially with kids
  • Avoid extreme heat or cold
  • Wear cotton fabric and soft materials
  • Keep nails short and try not to scratch
  • Use cotton gloves... not tie-on gloves

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