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Atopic Dermatitis - Definition, Causes, Symptoms and Treatment


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Atopic dermatitis is a chronic disease that affects the skin. Atopic dermatitis is most common in babies and children. But it can happen to anyone. People who live in cities and dry climates may be more likely to get this disease. In atopic dermatitis, the skin becomes extremely itchy. Scratching leads to redness, swelling, cracking, "weeping" clear fluid, and finally, crusting and scaling. As some children with atopic dermatitis grow older, their skin disease improves or disappears altogether, although their skin often remains dry and easily irritated. In others, atopic dermatitis continues to be a significant problem in adulthood. When children with atopic dermatitis grow older, this problem can improve or go away. But the skin may stay dry and easy to irritate. At other times, atopic dermatitis is a problem in adulthood. It is a familial and chronic disease and its symptoms can increase or disappear over time. There is no cure for it, but its symptoms can be managed with various treatments.

Atopic dermatitis in older children and adults is often confused with psoriasis. The condition is often associated with a family history of eczema, asthma or hay fever. There are many external factors which may aggravate the eczema. Atopic dermatitis is considered by some authors as: atopic eczema, allergic eczema, infantile eczema, disseminated neurodermatitis. Atopic dermatitis is the most common of the many types of eczema. Atopic dermatitis is a common cause of workplace disability. People who live in cities and in dry climates appear more likely to develop this condition. Symptoms vary from person to person. The most common symptoms are dry, itchy skin and rashes on the face, inside the elbows and behind the knees, and on the hands and feet. There is no cure for eczema, but there are a number of ways to relieve it. Topical steroids may be prescribed to reduce skin inflammation during an eczema flare-up.

Causes of Atopic dermatitis

The exect cause of atopic dermatitis is not known, but the disease seems to result from a combination of hereditary and environmental factors. Children are more likely to develop this disorder if one or both parents have had it or have had allergic conditions like asthma or hay fever. Environmental factors can bring on symptoms of atopic dermatitis at any time in individuals who have inherited the atopic disease trait. Eczema may be set off by extreme temperatures, stress, sweating, medication, clothing, grease, oils, soap and detergents, and environmental allergens. Dryness is perhaps the most important trigger. Drying soaps should be avoided, and the skin should be moisturized frequently.

Common causes and risk factors of Atopic dermatitis:

  • A combination of genetic and environmental factors.
  • People who live in cities and dry climates.
  • A family history of asthma, hay fever, or atopic dermatitis.
  • Certain viruses, for example, the herpes simplex virus.

Signs and Symptoms of Atopic dermatitis

Symptoms vary from person to person. Regardless of cause or type, contact dermatitis results in itching and a rash. Most commonly, the rash contains tiny blisters. People with atopic dermatitis seem to be more sensitive to itching and feel the need to scratch longer in response. 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. Atopic dermatitis may also affect the skin around the eyes, the eyelids, and the eyebrows and lashes. Scratching and rubbing the eye area can cause the skin to change in appearance. Some people with atopic dermatitis develop an extra fold of skin under their eyes, called an atopic pleat.

Sign and symptoms may include the following :

  • An extra fold of skin that develops under the eye.
  • Dry, rectangular scales on the skin.
  • Increased number of skin creases on the palms.
  • Redness and swelling of the skin.
  • Small bumps that open and weep when scratched.

Treatment for Atopic dermatitis

Treatment is not effective until there is no further contact with the substance causing the problem. Once the substance is removed, the redness usually disappears after a week. Sometimes over-the-counter preparations are used. Topical steroids may be prescribed to reduce skin inflammation during an eczema flare-up. Topical steroids come in four strengths: mild, moderately potent, potent, and very potent. Corticosteroid creams and ointments have been used for many years to treat atopic dermatitis and other autoimmune diseases affecting the skin.

Treatment may include:

  • Antibiotics to treat infections caused by bacteria.
  • Skin creams or ointments that control swelling and lower allergic reactions.
  • A mix of light therapy and a drug called psoralen.
  • The immunosuppressant Tacrolimus can be used as a topical preparation in the treatment of severe atopic dermatitis.
  • Ultraviolet light therapy may be of some help in chronic eczema that does not respond well to other therapy.