Atopic Dermatitis

  • Medical Author:
    Gary W. Cole, MD, FAAD

    Dr. Cole is board certified in dermatology. He obtained his BA degree in bacteriology, his MA degree in microbiology, and his MD at the University of California, Los Angeles. He trained in dermatology at the University of Oregon, where he completed his residency.

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

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What factors can aggravate atopic dermatitis?

Many factors or conditions can intensify the symptoms of atopic dermatitis, including dry skin, small changes in temperature, the low humidity of winter or cold weather, wool cloths, and other irritating skin conditions. These factors may further trigger the itch-scratch cycle, further stimulating the many times already overactive immune system in the skin. Repeated aggravation and activation of the itch-scratch cycle may cause further skin damage and barrier breakdown. These exacerbating elements can be broken down into two main categories: irritants and allergens. Emotional factors and some infections can also influence atopic dermatitis.

What are skin irritants in patients with atopic dermatitis?

Irritants are substances that directly affect the skin, and when used in high enough concentrations with long enough contact, cause the skin to become red and itchy or to burn. Specific irritants affect people with atopic dermatitis to different degrees. Over time, many patients and their families learn to identify the irritants that are most troublesome to them. For example, wool or synthetic fibers may affect some patients. Rough or poorly fitting clothing can rub the skin, trigger inflammation, and prompt the beginning of the itch-scratch cycle. Soaps, detergents and even water may have a drying effect and worsen itching. Some perfumes and cosmetics may irritate the skin. Chlorine and alcoholic solvents, dust or sand may also aggravate the condition. Cigarette smoke may irritate the eyelids.

Common irritants

  • Wool or synthetic fibers
  • Soaps and detergents
  • Some perfumes and cosmetics
  • Substances such as chlorine, mineral oil, or solvents
  • Dust or sand
  • Dust mites
  • Cigarette smoke
  • Animal fur or dander
  • Flowers and pollen
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 10/9/2015
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