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Atopic Dermatitis (Eczema) - Topic Overview

Atopic dermatitis camera.gif, sometimes called eczema, is a skin problem that causes dry skin, intense itching, and then a red, raised rash. It's most common in babies and children. It cannot be spread from person to person.

Some children with atopic dermatitis outgrow it or have milder cases as they get older. Also, a person may get atopic dermatitis as an adult. For some people, atopic dermatitis may be a long-lasting (chronic) skin problem that requires more than one treatment.

The cause of atopic dermatitis isn't clear, but it affects your skin's ability to hold moisture. Your skin becomes dry, itchy, and easily irritated.

Most people who have atopic dermatitis have a personal or family history of allergies, such as hay fever (allergic rhinitis) or asthma.

Things that may make atopic dermatitis worse include:

  • Allergens, such as dust mites or animal dander.
  • Harsh soaps or detergents.
  • Weather changes, especially dry and cold.
  • Stress.
  • Certain foods, such as eggs, peanuts, milk, wheat, fish, or soy products, if you are allergic to them. Food allergies trigger atopic dermatitis more commonly in babies and children than in adults.
  • Skin infection.

The main symptom of atopic dermatitis is itching, followed by rash. The rash is red and patchy. It may be long-lasting (chronic) or may come and go (recurring). Tiny bumps that look like little blisters may appear and ooze fluid or crust over. Scratching can cause the sores to become infected. Over time, a recurring rash can lead to tough and thickened skin.

Mild atopic dermatitis affects a small area of skin, isn't very itchy, and usually goes away with moisturizer. Severe atopic dermatitis covers a large area of skin that is very itchy and doesn't go away with moisturizer.

People tend to get the rash on different parts of the body, depending on their age. Common sites include the face, neck, arms, and legs. Rashes in the groin area are rare.

A doctor can usually tell if you have atopic dermatitis by doing a physical exam and asking questions about your past health.

Your doctor may advise allergy testing to find the things that trigger the rash. Allergy tests can be done by an allergist (immunologist) or dermatologist.

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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: April 17, 2012
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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