Doctors diagnose eczema by performing a physical exam and looking at the affected skin. They may also order blood tests to check your levels of antibodies, called IgE.
Irritants, including soaps, detergents, fragrances, rough fabrics, and stress, can trigger a flare. Using natural skincare, medication, and managing stress can help relieve symptoms.
What is Atopic Dermatitis?
Atopic Dermatitis (AD) is the most common form of eczema, and it is a chronic (long-lasting) condition that causes dry, itchy, red, irritated skin patches. The patches appear on all body parts and can be mild to severe. It can be triggered by things that make you itchy, such as wool or pet dander, soaps and detergents, cold temperatures, stress, infections, and other conditions like hay fever and asthma. It also can flare up when you scratch the rash so much that it gets infected.
Scientists aren’t sure what causes atopic dermatitis, but they think it concerns your immune system. People with it have a mutation in the gene for filaggrin, which is involved in forming your skin barrier. This allows moisture to escape and makes your skin more sensitive to allergens and irritants. It also may be caused by your family history of the disease and other environmental factors, such as living in a dry climate. About half of the kids with atopic dermatitis have someone in their family with allergies, and about a third will develop hay fever or asthma.
AD affects people of all ages, races, ethnicities, and genders, but it’s more common in kids. It usually goes away by adolescence, but it can continue into adulthood. It is more common in people with lighter skin, but it can still happen to those with darker skin, though they tend to have a less severe form of the disease, notes research published in Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology.
What Causes Atopic Dermatitis?
Atopic Dermatitis, also known as chronic relapsing dermatitis, is characterized by scaly, itchy patches of skin. When rubbed, it may ooze a clear fluid. It can be extremely itchy and cause problems with sleep. The rash can spread to other body areas, such as the hands, feet, and legs. It can begin in childhood and continue until adulthood or adolescence. This type of eczema is more common in children with food allergies or asthma. These children may be more susceptible than others to respiratory infections and hay fever, particularly during cold weather.
Atopic dermatitis is believed to be caused by a genetic mutation that weakens the skin’s barrier function. Skin can’t defend itself against irritants and bacteria, which causes an immune response that triggers inflammation. National Jewish Health states that people with atopic skin dermatitis are at an increased risk for developing asthma or hay fever.
Some common eczema triggers include pet dander, dust mites, detergents, and soaps. Chemicals in perfumes, laundry detergents, and some cleaners can also be problematic. Irritation and inflammation can lead to open sores, which increase the risk of infections from bacteria and viruses. Repeated scratching can lead to scabbing and scarring. The rash can become itchy and painful, which interferes with sleep. The rash is sometimes very red and swollen, with blisters that ooze or bleed. This type of atopic dermatitis is known as xerotic or eczema craquelure.
How Do Atopic Dermatitis Symptoms Develop?
Many things can trigger eczema symptoms, including cold air or hot and humid weather, certain soaps and detergents, foods, animal dander, and pollen. The condition can also flare up after using rough fabrics like wool, ragged clothing or sports equipment, and itching can increase if you scratch too hard or too long. It’s important to avoid these irritants and to keep your skin hydrated with ointments, creams, or lotions 2 to 3 times a day.
Eczema tends to run in families, and kids with it usually have someone with hay fever or asthma. They’re also more likely to have allergies to food, pollen, and other things in the environment. It seems hereditary, and people with atopic dermatitis often have a gene variation that weakens their skin barrier function, making the immune system overreact to things that shouldn’t bother the body.
Atopic dermatitis can affect people of all ages, racial or ethnic backgrounds, and gender identities. It often goes away before adolescence but can last through adulthood for some. The symptoms may change over time, with periods of worsening (flare-ups) followed by improvement (remissions). It’s more common in babies and young children but can appear at any age. The rash typically appears on the face, neck, and skin in the bend of elbows, knees, ankles, and feet.
What Are the Symptoms of Atopic Dermatitis?
Itchy red or pink skin develops patches of dry, scaly rashes in atopic dermatitis. The patches can be bumpy or smooth and may look different depending on the area affected. There are periods of worsening or flares, followed by a period of improvement or remission. Atopic dermatitis can last a lifetime, but the frequency and severity of symptoms usually decrease over time. Symptoms can be controlled with proper treatment, moisturizing, and avoiding irritants that trigger flares.
In addition to the skin symptoms, people with atopic dermatitis may have itchy eyes. They may also develop a condition called keratosis pilaris, which causes small, rough bumps on the skin. This common skin condition can be seen on the elbows, knees, wrists, and thighs.
Many things can trigger atopic dermatitis, including skin care products, soaps, and detergents; hot or cold temperatures; dry or wet clothing; metals; and stress. Some people may have it triggered by certain foods, such as eggs, milk, nuts, and fish, or urushiol oil, found in poison ivy, oak, and poison sumac.
Doctors don’t know what causes atopic dermatitis, but it runs in families. Kids with it often have someone in their family who has allergies, hay fever, or asthma. It’s thought that living in an area with a harsh climate may increase your risk of getting it.