Although there is no cure for
atopic dermatitis, it can be controlled with
preventive measures and medicines. Treatment helps stop the rash from recurring
(flares) and controls itching. You can generally bring the rash and itching
under control within 3 weeks of a flare. Specific treatment depends on the
type of rash you have. Typically, a combination of
corticosteroid medicines and moisturizers is used.
Avoiding dry skin. This is essential in
treating atopic dermatitis. Keep your or your child's skin hydrated through
proper bathing and use of moisturizers. This includes
bathing in lukewarm water, bathing for only 3 to 5 minutes, avoiding gels and bath
oils, and using soap regularly only on the underarms, groin, and feet. Apply a
moisturizer immediately after bathing. For more information, see:
irritants that cause a rash or make a rash worse.
These include soaps that dry the skin, perfumes, and scratchy clothing or
allergens that cause a rash or make a rash worse.
These may include dust and
animal dander, and certain
foods, such as eggs, peanuts, milk, wheat, fish, or soy
products. Talk to your doctor first to determine whether allergens are
contributing to your atopic dermatitis. For more information, see the topic
Controlling itching and scratching. Keep your
fingernails trimmed and filed smooth to help prevent damaging the skin when
scratching. You may want to use protective dressings to keep from rubbing the
affected area. Put mittens or cotton socks on your baby's hands to help prevent
him or her from scratching the area.
Coal tar preparations applied to the skin also may
help reduce itching.
You may need medicine to heal your rash and reduce
Topical corticosteroids (such as
hydrocortisone, betamethasone, and fluticasone) are the most common and
effective treatment for atopic dermatitis. They are
used until the rash clears and may be used to prevent atopic dermatitis flares.
Topical medicines, such as creams or ointments, are applied directly to the
Calcineurin inhibitors (pimecrolimus and tacrolimus)
are topical immunosuppressants-medicines that weaken your body's
immune system. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration
(FDA) recommends caution when prescribing or using Elidel (pimecrolimus) cream
and Protopic (tacrolimus) ointment because of a potential cancer risk.5 The FDA also stresses that these medicines only be used as
directed and only after trying other treatment options. Calcineurin inhibitors
are not approved for children younger than 2 years of age.
Antihistamines (such as diphenhydramine and
hydroxyzine) are often used to treat itching and to help you sleep when severe
night itching is a problem. But histamines are not always involved in atopic
dermatitis itching, so these medicines may not help all people who have the
condition. Don't give antihistamines to your child
unless you've checked with the doctor first.