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Overview

Atopic dermatitis, also known as eczema, is a chronic skin condition that causes repeated episodes of itchy red rashes.

Eczema comes and goes over time. It results in very dry and sensitive skin, and it can be made worse by exposure to many different things, including allergens such as pet dander or dust mites. Other common triggers include soaps, detergents and lotions with heavy fragrances. Exposure to perfumes and cleaning products can also irritate eczema. For some people, weather changes (especially dry winter air) make eczema worse.

Atopic dermatitis is particularly common in infants, and an estimated 10 to 20 percent of children have eczema. It is not contagious and is often hereditary.

People with eczema also are at risk of developing food allergies, asthma and hay fever

Symptoms

Symptoms of eczema include:

  • A red rash or red patches of skin, especially inside the folds of the elbows and knees
  • Itching
  • Dry skin, which can crack and possibly bleed

Treatment

Your allergist can determine possible allergic triggers for your eczema — and offer treatment suggestions to help provide relief from symptoms. Avoid scratching, which can lead to infection.

You’ll likely be asked questions about the types of soap, detergent and skin care products you use, and about any other exposures that may be making your eczema worse.

Next, your allergist may perform a skin test (percutaneous or scratch test). This is done by scratching a small amount of an allergen into the top layer of your skin, and then observing the tested area for about 15 minutes to see if a bump (wheal) or redness (flare) develops.

If a trigger for your atopic dermatitis can be determined, the first step is to avoid contact with it if possible. Your allergist may also prescribe topical steroids and/or an antihistamine to help treat your symptoms.

Other than medication, ointments and moisturizers are the mainstays of treatment and should be applied daily, even when the skin appears clear, to help prevent dryness. Other helpful measures include staying hydrated, wearing gloves in cold weather and avoiding perfumed soaps, tight-fitting or wool clothing, and harsh cleansers.

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