Eczema & Atopic Dermatitis
The terms eczema or dermatitis are used to describe certain kinds of inflamed skin conditions. Eczema can be red, blistering, oozing, scaly, brownish, or thickened and usually itches.
Atopic Dermatitis or Atopic Eczema
The word "atopic" means there is a tendency for excess inflammation in the skin and linings of the nose and lungs. This often runs in families and is manifested by allergies, asthma, sensitive skin, and a history of atopic dermatitis. That being said, 20% of people with atopic dermatitis do not have family members with similar problems.
Atopic dermatitis is very common in all parts of the world. It affects about 10% of infants and 3% of the total population in the United States. The condition frequently improves with adolescence, but many patients are affected throughout life, although usually not as severely as in early childhood. When the disease starts in infancy, it is often an itchy, oozing, crusting rash and occurs mainly on the face and scalp, but patches can appear anywhere. Because of the itch, children may rub their head, cheeks, and other areas, worsening the rash. Many babies improve over time, but that can be unpredictable.
In children and young adults, the patches typically occur on the hands and feet, the bends of the elbows, backs of the knees, ankles, wrists, face, and neck. Intense, almost unbearable itching can occur, and may be most noticeable at night. Some patients scratch the skin until it bleeds which is a setup for infection.
Although some foods may provoke atopic dermatitis (10%of the time), especially in infants and young children with asthma, eliminating those foods is rarely a cure. You should eliminate any foods that cause immediate severe reactions or welts. Occasionally, dust and dust-catching objects like feather pillows, down comforters, cat and dog dander, carpeting, drapes, wool and other rough fabrics can worsen atopic dermatitis. Allergy testing may rarely be of benefit but allergy shots do not seem to improve the condition of eczema.
The treatment of atopic dermatitis if often multi-faceted. There are a number of skin care changes that can be combined with prescription medications to yield good control. There are additional options including ultraviolet light therapy, massage, and behavioral modification. It is important to work with your dermatologist to find the best approach for you or your child.