Know the basics
What is atopic eczema?
Atopic eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis, is a common type of skin condition. It is a chronic condition that tends to cause flare ups and then clears up for a period of time. Atopic eczema causes the skin to become inflamed, itchy, dry and scaly. These dry skin patches can appear on the scalp, forehead and face. The severity of the condition can range from mild to severe. When you have atopic eczema, you may also have other allergic conditions such as asthma and hay fever. Atopic eczema can cause extreme itching that may disrupt your sleep and interfere with your daily activities. It is important to seek medical attention to prevent your condition from worsening.
How common is atopic eczema?
Atopic eczema is common, affecting more babies and children. Atopic eczema can appear before the age of 5 and continue into adulthood. For some children, atopic eczema can improve or go away. Atopic eczema is more common in people who have family history of eczema, hay fever or asthma.
Know the symptoms
What are the symptoms of atopic eczema?
Atopic eczema may appear differently for infants, children and adults. The common symptoms of atopic eczema are:
- Itching that is most severe at night;
- Red to brownish-gray skin patches on the hands, feet, ankles, wrists, neck, upper chest, eyelids, inside the bend of the elbows and knees;
- Small and raised bumps;
- Thick, dry and scaly skin;
- Raw, sensitive and swollen skin from scratching.
For infants, symptoms can start to appear as early as 2 to 3 months old. Dry skin patches usually appear on the face and scalp, often causing trouble sleeping. Babies may also want to rub against the bedding, carpet or other surrounding things to relieve the itching. This can cause skin infections.
When atopic eczema begins at the age of 2 years, children will usually experience rashes on the creases of the elbows or knees. The skin patches may thicken and become leathery from constant scratching.
Symptoms for adults are different from infants and children. Atopic eczema may start appearing all over the body, causing more dry and scaly skin. The itching can be intense and continuous without periods of relief.
There may be some signs or symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult with your doctor.
When should I see my doctor?
You should contact your doctor if you have any of the following:
- You are losing sleep or distracted from your daily routines.
- Your skin is painful.
- Your skin appears to be infected: red streaks, pus, yellow scabs.
- Self-care steps can’t help.
- Your eyes or vision is affected.
If you suppose that your child is having these signs and symptoms or if you suspect your child has atopic dermatitis, you need to take them to the doctor immediately.
Know the causes
What causes atopic eczema?
The cause of atopic eczema has not yet been identified. However, researchers believe certain triggers can lead to eczema. People who have allergies can have atopic eczema, such as in people with food allergies or asthma. Allergy is the most common cause of eczema in young children with severe eczema. There are triggers that have been known to cause atopic eczema. These triggers are soaps, detergents, stress, low humidity, seasonal allergies, exposure to harsh soaps and detergents, and cold weather.
Know the risk factors
What increases my risk for atopic eczema?
There are many risk factors for atopic eczema, such as:
- A personal or family history of eczema, allergies, hay fever or asthma;
- Hand dermatitis which is caused by being a health care worker.
Risk factors for children include:
- Residing in urban areas;
- Being African-American;
- Having parents with a high level of education;
- Attending child care;
- Having hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Understand the diagnosis & treatment
The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.
How is atopic eczema diagnosed?
The diagnosis for atopic eczema is quite simple. Your doctor, physician or dermatologist can make a diagnosis from checking how your skin look. They might test if you feel pain when the skin area is touch, or test your eyes to see if they are affected. Lab tests are usually not required to diagnose atopic eczema. Your doctor may test a sample of your skin patch to rule out any possible infection.
How is atopic eczema treated?
There is not a cure for atopic eczema but there are treatment options that can help relieve your symptoms. The goals of treatment include the are:
- Prevent atopic eczema from worsening or flare-up;
- Relieve the pain and itching;
- Reduce emotional stress and other triggers;
- Prevent infections;
- Stop the skin from thickening.
Your treatment plan may be a combination of drug therapy, skin care and lifestyle changes. Drug therapy usually includes creams that can control the itching, inflammation and repair your skin. These drugs may include topical corticosteroids, tacrolimus (Protopicâ), pimecrolimus (Elidelâ) and anti-bacterial ointments. For more severe cases, your doctor may prescribe oral anti-itch drugs, oral corticosteroids or injected drugs that control the inflammation. These drugs may include prednisone, diphenhydramine, cetirizine (Zyrtecâ) and hydroxyzine (Ataraxâ).
Other treatment options may include the following:
- Wet dressings – wrapping the infectious area with topical corticosteroids and wet bandages.
- Using emollients or moisturizing treatments on a daily basis for dry skin.
- Applying topical corticosteroids to reduce swelling, redness and itching during flare-ups.
- Light therapy or phototherapy uses artificial ultraviolet A (UVA) or narrow band UVB to treat your skin.
Lifestyle changes & home remedies
What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage atopic eczema?
The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with atopic eczema:
- Avoid triggers. You should keep a list of all your known triggers such as foods or certain detergent or soap brands.
- Keep your skin moist. Your skin needs to be moisturized at least twice a day. Use a moisturizer all over while your skin is still damp from a bath or shower. You can consider using oil or lubricating cream if your skin is already dry.
- Avoid scratching. Scratching just makes your condition worse. You can avoid this by covering the itchy area. Then, you need to trim nails and wear gloves at night.
- Apply cool and wet compresses. Covering the affected area with bandages and dressings helps protect the skin and prevent scratching.
- Take a warm bath. It is suggested that you can sprinkle the bath water with baking soda, uncooked oatmeal or colloidal oatmeal. Next, you need to soak for 10 to 15 minutes before patting dry and applying medicated lotions, moisturizers or both (use the medicated form first).
If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
Atopic eczema. http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/Eczema-(atopic)/Pages/Introduction.aspx. Accessed June 12, 2016.
Atopic eczema. http://www.medicinenet.com/atopic_dermatitis/page3.htm. Accessed June 12, 2016.
Atopic dermatitis. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/eczema/basics/preparing-for-your-appointment/con-20032073. Accessed June 12, 2016.
Review Date: May 30, 2016 | Last Modified: January 4, 2017