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Known by many names, including atopic dermatitis or simply eczema – it all adds up to scaly, red, itchy skin that you have to scratch.


Skin that goes beyond dry, all the way to scaly, reddened patches that itch so bad it drives you crazy, might be atopic eczema, or atopic dermatitis. Though the condition is chronic, something you will always have to deal with, you can control it and steer clear of future outbreaks with proper precautions.

As the most common type of dermatitis and skin inflammation, atopic eczema affects 10-20 percent of people worldwide. Since certain types of exposure cause the rash, it is considered allergy related and called atopic. People with atopic eczema have skin that’s sensitive to multiple substances that can bring on an eczema reaction – like wool, common cosmetic ingredients, and many laundry detergent residues. Though less common, some foods will trigger or exacerbate eczema episodes, and those who suffer from the condition can sometimes help their skin by avoiding these foods.

Usually making an appearance at a young age – normally from 1-5 years old – atopic eczema can affect anyone, young or old. Patches of eczema usually start as red, itchy skin, but may eventually blister and crust over, often oozing in the process. When the rash heals, it leaves behind a thickened patch of skin. The process can repeatedly occur over the years, but sometimes disappears during young adulthood.

Atopic eczema symptoms:

  • Dry skin that becomes rash like
  • Rash forms on the face, elbows, wrists, knees, or underside of knees
  • Red, swollen, scaly skin
  • Extreme itchiness
  • Itching, discharge from ears
  • Leathery patches of skin
  • Eventual changes in skin color
  • Oozing blisters

Babies and young children are more likely to experience facial eczema than adults, but it can also form on young knees and elbows.

Atopic Eczema – Causes

The reasons for atopic eczema are unknown, though there may be a genetic link. The condition often runs in families. Though tied to other diseases related to allergies like asthma and hay fever, research shows sufferers of atopic eczema lack certain proteins that would normally protect skin from known irritants.

People with atopic eczema have skin that is more sensitive to irritants and allergens than most, which leads to chronic eczema symptoms – itching and inflammation.

Atopic eczema triggers:

  • Overly dry skin
  • Weather and temperature changes
  • Extreme stress
  • Prolonged bathing, frequent skin soaking
  • Contact with irritants like harsh chemicals and substances

Atopic Eczema Treatment

Permanent prevention of eczema outbreaks is unlikely, but you can treat the condition and keep it from being overly itchy and painful. Options include:

  • Topical steroid-free prescription medication: Protopic (tacrolimus), Elidel (pimecrolimus)
  • Corticosteroid creams for itch relief
  • Oral corticosteroid drugs
  • Oral antihistamines to alleviate symptoms
  • Use mild soaps for cleansing
  • Soothe with thick moisturizing creams
  • Tar-based creams and ointments can reduce inflammation while moisturizing dry skin

In order for the skin to heal, it’s important to soothe the irritated area. Avoid drying cleansers and limit time spent bathing. Use mild, skin conditioning soaps. Stay away from likely irritants and allergens.

Atopic eczema outbreaks that are left untreated can turn into secondary bacterial infections, leaving you with permanently scarred skin after the oozing lesions and rash go away.

Prevent Atopic Eczema Outbreaks

You can reduce the risk of atopic eczema outbreaks in several ways. Try to reduce stress whenever possible. Keeping your skin properly moisturized and healthy can also lower outbreak risk. Recognize possible triggers for your atopic eczema and avoid them at all times. When you learn the likely culprits for an outbreak and how to avoid them, your condition becomes much more manageable.

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