Atopic dermatitis, also known as eczema, is a common skin condition, especially among infants and young children. The condition can be long-lasting and can cause uncomfortable itching; however, the symptoms often become milder with age. Treatments are also available to ease the discomfort. The exact cause is not known; however, the condition is more prevalent today than it was 30 years ago.
Signs and Symptoms
In infants, dermatitis can first appear as a rash that causes the skin to become dry and scaly. It typically appears on the scalp and face, but it can affect other parts of the body. The rash may start to weep, and the itching may become so severe that the child has difficulty sleeping, and rubs against bedding or other objects to scratch. In some cases, the scratching can even lead to skin infections.
In children and teens, eczema most often appears in creased areas, such as the elbows and knees. The skin may become thick, discolored, and develop knots. The affected area is almost constantly itchy and scaly.
In most cases, eczema significantly improves or completely resolves by adulthood. If an adult still suffers from the condition, the skin will normally be very dry, scaly, and itchy. It usually affects areas such as the face, neck, and around the eyes. The affected areas of skin may appear much lighter or darker than other areas of skin. Even if the condition has resolved, the skin may still be extremely dry and prone to irritation.
Atopic dermatitis does appear to have a genetic component. Children with a close family member with a history of the condition, asthma, or hay fever are more likely to develop the conditions. Living in a developed country, polluted city, or in a cold climate are additional risk factors. Females and children born to older mothers are also more likely to have the condition.
Diagnosis and Treatment
A dermatologist will often reach a diagnosis by examining the patient’s skin and questioning the patient about their symptoms and their family history of asthma and hay fever. In some cases, a skin test may be performed to rule out an allergic reaction. Treatment usually consists of medications, lifestyle changes, and skin care regimens to control itching, reduce inflammation, prevent infection, and lessen the appearance of scaly lesions.