The main symptom of atopic dermatitis is itching. The itching can be severe and persistent, especially at night. Scratching the affected area of skin usually causes a rash. The rash is red and patchy and may be long-lasting (chronic) or come and go (recurring). The rash may:
- Develop fluid-filled sores that can ooze fluid or crust over. This can happen when the skin is rubbed or scratched or if a skin infection is present. This is known as an acute (sudden or of short duration), oozing rash.
- Be scaly and dry, red, and itchy. This is known as a subacute (longer duration) rash.
- Become tough and thick from constant scratching (lichenification).
How bad your symptoms are depends on how large an area of skin is affected, how much you scratch the rash, and whether the rash gets infected.
The areas most often affected are the face, scalp, neck, arms, and legs. The rash is also common in areas that bend, such as the back of the knees and inside of the elbows. Rashes in the groin or diaper area are rare. There may be age-related differences in the way the rash looks and behaves.
- Babies (2 months to 2 years): The rash is often crusted or oozes fluid. It's most commonly seen during the winter months as dry, red patches on the cheeks .
- Children (2 years to 11 years): The rash is usually dry. But it may go through stages from an oozing rash to a red, dry rash that causes the skin to thicken. This thickened skin is called lichenification. It often occurs after the rash goes away.
For adolescents and adults, atopic dermatitis often improves as you get older.