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What Is an Atopic Dermatitis Or Eczema

The word "dermatitis" means inflammation of the skin. "Atopic" refers to diseases that are hereditary, tend to run in families, and often occur together. Atopic dermatitis or eczema is a skin disease characterized by areas of severe itching, redness, scaling, and loss of the surface of the skin (excoriation).The skin of a patient with atopic dermatitis or eczema reacts abnormally and easily to irritants, food, and environmental allergens and becomes red, flaky and very itchy. The skin also becomes vulnerable to surface infections caused by bacteria. Atopic dermatitis is the most common of the many types of eczema. This disorder usually affects young children on the face and extensor surfaces of the arms and legs (elbow and knee sides). Older children and adults are usually affected on the sides of the neck and on the inside of the elbow and knee.

Atopic dermatitis is usually associated with other allergic disorders like asthma.

Atopic dermatitis is very common worldwide and increasing in prevalence. It affects males and females equally and accounts for 10-20% of all referrals to dermatologists. More than 15 million people in the United States have symptoms of the disease. Atopic dermatitis is not contagious.

Itch Scratch Cycle in Atopic Dermatitis Or Eczema

Mild itching makes the patient scratch the skin. But scratching damages the skin, worsens inflammation, irritates surface nerves, and leads to even more intense itching than you had before. This cycle aggravates and prolongs all of these rashes.

Causes of Atopic Dermatitis Or Eczema

The exact cause of atopic dermatitis is not known. It is believed to be caused by a combination of environmental and genetic factors, but the exact cause is not known. Stress can make the symptoms worse, but it does not cause the disease.

Symptoms of Atopic Dermatitis or Eczema

Symptoms Of Atopic Dermatitis According To The Age Group Involved Are:

  • Infants Present with Red, Scaly, Oozy, Crusty Cheeks, and The Neck, Arms, And Legs Are Involved. Symptoms Clear In About Half Of These Children By The Time They Are 2 Or 3 Years Old.
  • In Older Children, The Folds On The Arms And Behind The Knees Can Become Dry, Thick, Scaly, And Very Itchy. Atopic Dermatitis Typically Becomes Less Severe As The Child Matures.
  • In Young Adults, Symptoms Typically Appear On The Face, Neck, Hands, Feet, Fingers, And Toes. Most Of The Lesions Are Thickened, Leathery, And Dull-Looking.

Symptoms Can Also Be Divided Into:

  • Acute Lesions: These Include Extremely Itchy Reddened Papules (Small Solid Eruptions Resembling Pimples) And Vesicles (Small Blister-Like Elevations In The Skin Surface That Contain Tissue Fluid) Over Erythematous (Reddened) Skin. Acute Lesions Produce A Watery Exudate And Are Often Accompanied By Exfoliation (Scaling Or Peeling Of Layers Of Skin) And Erosion (Destruction Of The Skin Surface).
  • Subacute Lesions : These Are Characterized By Reddening, Peeling, And Scaling But Are Less Severe Than Acute Lesions And Do Not Produce An Exudate.
  • Chronic Lesions: These Are Characterized By Thickened Plaques Of Skin, Lichenification, And Fibrous Papules. It Is Possible For A Patient With Chronic Atopic Dermatitis To Have All Three Types Of Lesions At The Same Time.

Factors That Worsen Atopic Dermatitis Or Eczema

  • Long, Hot Baths Or Showers
  • Dry Skin
  • Stress
  • Sweating
  • Rapid Changes In Temperature
  • Low Humidity
  • Solvents, Cleaners, Soaps Or Detergents
  • Wool Or Man-Made Fabrics Or Clothing
  • Dust Or Sand

Diagnosis of Atopic Dermatitis Or Eczema

Diagnosis of atopic dermatitis is based on the following criteria. To have atopic dermatitis, a patient must have three or more features from each of the two categories :

  • Major Features
  • Intense Itching
  • Characteristic Rash In Typical Locations
  • Chronic Or Repeated Symptoms
  • Minor Features
  • Early Age At Onset
  • Xerosis - Dry, Rough Skin
  • Pityriasis Alba : Patches Of Hypopigmented, Or Lighter, Skin. This Occurs More Often In Infants Than In Older Children
  • Ichthyosis : Severe Dryness And Scaling Of The Skin Causing It To Look Like Fish Scales
  • Hyperlinear Palms And Soles : Dry, Prominent, Permanent Creases In The Palms And Soles
  • Keratosis Pilaris : Fine, Flesh-Colored Or Slightly Red Plugs On The Backs Of The Arms, The Outside Of The Thighs, Buttocks, And Face
  • Hand Or Foot Dermatitis : Glistening Red, Scaling, And Cracking Skin On The Hands Or Feet

Self-Care in Atopic Dermatitis or Eczema 

  • Avoid Rough, Scratchy, Tight Clothing And Woolens
  • Avoid Frequent Use Of Soaps, Hot Water, And Other Cleansing Procedures That Tend To Remove Natural Oil From The Skin.
  • Take Bath Only Once As Far As Possible.
  • Washcloths And Brushes Should Not Be Used While Bathing
  • After Bathing, The Skin Should Be Patted Dry (Not Rubbed) And Then Immediately (Before It Dries Completely) Covered With A Thin Film Of Moisturizer Cream Or Ointment.