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What is atopic dermatitis?

Atopic dermatitis is a common, often long-lasting skin disease that affects a large percentage of the world's population. Atopy is a special type of hypersensitivity that is associated with asthma, inhalant allergies (hay fever), and a chronic dermatitis. There is a known hereditary component of the disease, and it is more common in affected families. Criteria that enable a doctor to diagnose it include the typical appearance and distribution of the rash in a patient with a personal or family history of asthma and/or hay fever.

The term atopic is from the Greek meaning "strange." The term dermatitis means inflammation of the skin.

In atopic dermatitis, the skin becomes extremely itchy and inflamed, causing redness, swelling, vesicle formation (minute blisters), cracking, weeping, crusting, and scaling. This type of eruption is termed eczematous. In addition, dry skin is a very common complaint in almost all those afflicted with atopic dermatitis.

Although atopic dermatitis can occur in any age, most often it affects infants and young children. Occasionally, it may persist into adulthood or may actually appear at that time. Some patients tend to have a protracted course with ups and downs. In most cases, there are periods of time when the disease is worse, called exacerbations or flares, which are followed by periods when the skin improves or clears up entirely, called remissions. Many children with atopic dermatitis enter into a permanent remission of the disease when they get older, although their skin may remain somewhat dry and easily irritated.

Multiple factors can trigger or worsen atopic dermatitis, including low humidity, seasonal allergies, exposure to harsh soaps and detergents, and cold weather. Environmental factors can activate symptoms of atopic dermatitis at any time in the lives of individuals who have inherited the atopic disease trait.

Return to Atopic Dermatitis

See what others are saying

Comment from: Itchy Rich, 75 or over Male (Patient) Published: November 03

I have used about four or five different topical treatments for atopic dermatitis, nothing seems to work. Yesterday my Veterans Affairs doctor prescribed prednisone, which seems to be doing some good, although too soon to tell. Topical treatments seemed to make things worse, as far as redness and itching are concerned. While using topical treatments only my arms and legs turned a bright red and sores seemed to open up.

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Comment from: asdasdd, Female (Patient) Published: October 27

I live in the Philippines where the warm and humid weather is just terrible for someone with atopic dermatitis. I've had it since I was a child and remember having these terrible urges to scratch places like the creases in my arms, legs, neck, and hands. If I walked through highly polluted areas, my whole face would get covered with rashes. Vaseline lotion and mineral oil were staples in our house. If a rash got pretty bad, my mom would put ointment on it and cover the whole area and leave it on overnight. Growing up, my allergies made me self-conscious when I had to wear shorts in gym class or when my classmates would ask about it, but thankfully, the itchiness and rashes became somewhat more controllable as I grew older. I'm in my 30s now, but I still do have some of those battle scars left � dry hands of a 50 year old and a chicken-skin neck. My two daughters have got it from me as well, unfortunately. When you have it, you just have to accept that you'll forever be buying hypoallergenic soaps, lotions, petroleum jelly, corticosteroid cream, etc. I guess it's just all about learning to identify the triggering factors for itching (hot weather, eating certain foods) and being religious with moisturizing.

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Comment from: maria, 65-74 Male (Caregiver) Published: May 19

I am a physician and my cousin experienced what was diagnosed as atopic dermatitis. He sought consultations and treatments from many western medicine doctors. He finally got results with an acupuncturist who prescribed a different diet and herbs and acupuncture of course. He has turned around and almost looks normal again. He lost so much weight and had what appeared to be a severe form of the disease. He continues with acupuncture treatments and has continued to improve. Hope this helps anyone that has the problem.

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