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- Atopic dermatitis facts
- What is atopic dermatitis?
- What is the difference between atopic dermatitis and eczema?
- How common is atopic dermatitis?
- What causes atopic dermatitis?
- Is atopic dermatitis contagious?
- What are atopic dermatitis symptoms and signs?
- Can atopic dermatitis affect the face?
- What are the stages of atopic dermatitis?
- How do physicians diagnose atopic dermatitis?
- What factors can aggravate atopic dermatitis?
- What are skin irritants in patients with atopic dermatitis?
- What are allergens?
- What are aeroallergens?
- What is the treatment for atopic dermatitis?
- What is the prognosis of atopic dermatitis?
Quick GuideEczema (Atopic Dermatitis) Causes, Symptoms, Treatment
Is atopic dermatitis contagious?
No. Atopic dermatitis itself is definitely not contagious, and it cannot be passed from one person to another through skin contact. There is generally no cause for concern in being around someone with even an active case of atopic dermatitis, unless they have active skin infections.
Some patients with atopic dermatitis get secondary infections of their skin with Staphylococcus ("staph"), other bacteria, herpes virus (cold sores), and less commonly yeasts and other fungal infections. These infections may be contagious through skin contact.
What are atopic dermatitis symptoms and signs?
Although symptoms may vary from person to person, the most common symptoms are dry, itchy, red skin. Itch is the grand hallmark of the disease. Typical affected skin areas include the folds of the arms, the back of the knees, wrists, face, and hands. Less commonly there may be cracks behind the ears, and various other rashes on any part of the body.
The itchy feeling is an important factor in atopic dermatitis, because scratching and rubbing in response to itching worsen the skin inflammation that is characteristic of this disease. People with atopic dermatitis seem to be more sensitive to itching and feel the need to scratch longer in response. They develop what is referred to as the "itch-scratch" cycle. The extreme itchiness of the skin causes the person to scratch, which in turn worsens the itch, and so on. Itching is particularly a problem during sleep, when conscious control of scratching decreases and the absence of other outside stimuli makes the itchiness more noticeable. Many patients also notice worsening of their itch in the early evening when they get home from work or school when there are less external stimuli to keep them occupied.
How atopic dermatitis affects the skin can be changed by patterns of scratching and resulting skin infections. Some people with the disease develop red, scaling skin where the immune system in the skin becomes very activated. Others develop thick and leathery skin as a result of constant scratching and rubbing. This condition is called lichenification. Still others develop papules, or small raised bumps, on their skin. When the papules are scratched, they may open (excoriations) and become crusty and infected. The box below lists common skin features of the disease. These conditions can also be found in people without atopic dermatitis or with other types of skin disorders.