What is Atopic Dermatitis?

Atopic dermatitis is an allergic skin disorder. The term atopic refers to an allergic causation while dermatitis means affliction of lesions on the skin.

Symptoms of atopic dermatitis

The commonest symptoms of atopic dermatitis include:-

  • Itchy and dry skin.
  • Rashes and skin lesions affecting face, behind the knees, on the hands and feet and inside the folds of the elbows.
  • The lesions due to scratching may be red, swollen, with cracking and oozing of clear fluids. The skin over the affected area turns thick with time and there may be scaling as well.
  • There are episodes of flare-ups when the lesions become worse followed by periods of remission when the lesions clear up.
  • Infants and babies are most commonly affected. Atopic dermatitis usually begins in infancy.

Atopic dermatitis epidemiology

Atopic dermatitis most commonly affects children and infants. It can occur at any age but usually begins during infancy.

In children the condition seems to lessen in intensity or resolve completely as the child grows into an adult. Atopic dermatitis may also affect individuals as adults.

Those living in cold and dry climates may be more susceptible. The skin in children who suffer from atopic dermatitis remains dry and easily irritable despite their outgrowing the condition in adulthood.

Pathophysiology and causes

Atopic dermatitis is often called eczema. Although the term atopic dermatitis and eczema are often used interchangeably, they are different.

Atopic dermatitis is the most common kind of eczema. Eczema includes several kids of skin problems. For example eczemas may include:-

  • allergic contact eczema
  • contact eczema
  • dyshidrotic eczema
  • nummular eczema
  • seborrheic eczema
  • neurodermatitis
  • stasis dermatitis etc.

The exact cause of atopic dermatitis is unknown. The condition often runs in families and may also be triggered by several environmental factors. Persons with atopic dermatitis may have other immunological disorders like hay fever and asthma.

Atopic Dermatitis: Related Conditions

Diagnosis and treatment of atopic dermatitis

Atopic dermatitis is most commonly diagnosed based on clinical symptoms. Symptoms may vary among persons. Some persons may have other allergic or immunological disorders like hay fever and asthma and some may have the history of atopic dermatitis in the family.

There are few tests to detect and confirm atopic dermatitis. Skin tests using allergens is one of the common tests that is employed.

Treatment of atopic dermatitis depends on the severity of the condition. One of the primary modes of treatment is to avoid the allergen or irritant that is causing flare-ups or aggravation of the condition.

A good skin care routine and treatment of the symptoms are requisites in management of the condition. Medications used for atopic dermatitis include skin ointments and creams that help lower allergic reactions including corticosteroids.

There are antibiotics that are used to treat and prevent infections caused by bacteria. Antihistaminic agents are used to prevent allergic flare-ups.

Further Reading

Last Updated: Jun 5, 2019

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Written by

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Dr. Ananya Mandal is a doctor by profession, lecturer by vocation and a medical writer by passion. She specialized in Clinical Pharmacology after her bachelor's (MBBS). For her, health communication is not just writing complicated reviews for professionals but making medical knowledge understandable and available to the general public as well.


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