Atopic Dermatitis

What is atopic dermatitis?

Atopic dermatitis, often called atopic eczema, is a very common skin condition, especially in children. People with this condition suffer dermatitis (inflammation of the skin) due to allergies or having skin which is sensitive to certain substances. It tends to affect children before they turn five, and may persist into later life. The typical symptoms are an itchy rash and scaly and dry skin. These symptoms tend to flare (get worse) in response to certain triggers. Treatment involves keeping the skin moist and using creams or medications to soothe the skin and treat the inflammation. Many children with atopic dermatitis will find that their condition improves over time, and may not have any symptoms by the time they are teenagers. Some people have atopic eczema that continues onto adulthood.


Atopic dermatitis is a common condition. Atopic dermatitis is most commonly diagnosed in children younger than five, and it is uncommon to have the first episode of atopic eczema as an adult. People with allergies (including hay fever and allergic asthma) tend to have a higher chance of having atopic eczema. Factors that trigger atopic eczema can be dryness, heat and sweating, irritating substances (such as certain clothing or chemicals), emotional or physical stress, skin infections and allergens, often food.


The typical symptoms of eczema are a red, itchy rash and dry, scaly skin. This rash might ooze or weep, and the skin may be raw due to persistent scratching. This rash often affects the face, scalp, elbows and knees. People that suffer eczema for a long time may develop thickened skin or scars from scratching or rubbing. If the rash becomes infected, there might be a thick, yellow ooze, as well as redness and crusting of the areas of eczema.


Diagnosis is usually based on the symptoms and physical appearance of the rash. Keeping a diary of symptoms and testing for specific allergens may be helpful in identifying the triggers of the eczema.


Keeping the skin moist helps to soothe the symptoms of atopic eczema. Some people use wet cloths or bandages on areas of dry and irritated skin. Using soaps or bath preparations which contain moisturizers or oils can be helpful in soothing the skin and protecting against irritating substances. Steroid creams are often used to treat flares of eczema. Antihistamine tablets can also be helpful to reduce itchiness.


Identifying and avoiding triggers that cause symptoms to get worse can help in preventing episodes of atopic dermatitis.

Other names for atopic dermatitis

  • atopic eczema
  • atopic rash