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Atopic Dermatitis - Causes, Symptoms and Treatment


The word "dermatitis" means inflammation of the skin. "Atopic" refers to a group of diseases that are hereditary. It is not a contagious disease (i.e cannot be easily passed from one person to other). The disease is most common in babies or very young children, and once caused, then it may last until the child reaches adolescence.

Atopic dermatitis, commonly referred to as eczema, is a chronic allergic skin disorder. In atopic dermatitis, the skin becomes extremely itchy. Scratching leads to redness, swelling, cracking, "weeping" clear fluid, and finally, crusting and scaling and is usually seen on the face, elbows, knees, and arms.

Atopic dermatitis usually occurs in people who have an 'atopic tendency'. This means they may develop any or all of three closely linked conditions; atopic dermatitis, asthma and hay fever (allergic rhinitis).

Causes of Atopic Dermatitis:

Some Important Causes of Atopic Dermatitis includes:-

  • Temperature Changes - Sudden changes in temperature can result in increased itchiness. A suddenly higher temperature may bring on sweating, which can cause itching and may inturn lead to atopic dermatitis.
  • People with asthma and hayfever in themselves and in their families, may cause atopic dermatitis.
  • Immune System: Atopic dermatitis may be due to an underlying inherited immune deficiency such as Job syndrome. In this disease, the dermatitis appears very soon after birth and is complicated by severe infections.
  • Low humidity, may lead to atopic dermatitis.
  • Chlorine in swimming pools, also cause atopic dermatitis.
  • Dryness: The dry skin is also one of the main cause of the atopic dermatitis. A dry skin is easily irritated by soap, detergents, and rough wool clothing. Clothes washed or dried with liquid or sheet fabric softeners such as Cling, may also irritate the skin. Hot and cold weather often aggravates eczema.
  • Weather - Atopic dermatitis is most common in winter seasons.
  • Exposure to allergens , such as pollen, dust mites , animal dander , or molds are the main cause of atopic dermatitis.
  • Emotional Stress - Emotions such as frustration or embarrassment may lead to increased itchiness and scratching and thus cause atopic dermatitis.
  • Exposure to certain foods, typically eggs, peanuts, milk, soy, or wheat products. Up to 40% of children with moderate to severe type of atopic dermatitis also suffer from some type of food allergy . However, many scientists do not agree on whether foods really causes atopic dermatitis or not.
  • Defects in the skin cells (keratinocytes), skin surface microbes (bacteria, viruses and yeasts) and many other factors also contribute in the formation of atopic dermatitis.

Symptoms of Atopic Dermatitis:

Some Possible Symptoms of Atopic Dermatitis includes:-

  • People with atopic dermatitis seem to be more sensitive to itching and feel the need to scratch longer in response.
  • The most common symptoms are dry skin; cracks behind the ears; and rashes on the cheeks, arms, and legs.
  • Small water blisters on the skin may also appear (particularly on the hands and feet) - or the skin can become wet and weepy if it gets infected.
  • The thick, leathery skin resulting from constant scratching and rubbing are another one of the common symptom of atopic dermatitis.
  • The inflammation of the skin on and around the lips may be due to atopic dermatitis.
  • Atopic dermatitis may also affect the skin around the eyes, the eyelids, and the eyebrows and lashes. The eyelids that have become darker in color from inflammation or hay fever.
  • The redness of skin is the earliest symptom of atopic dermatitis.
  • 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.
  • The small raised bumps can also be seen in atopic dermatitis.
  • The occurance of skin creases on the palms are due to atopic dermatitis.

Treatment of Atopic Dermatitis:

Several Treatments options are availaible for the Treament of Atopic Dermatitis. Some of them are given below:

  • Corticosteroid creams and ointments have been used for many years to treat atopic dermatitis and other autoimmune diseases affecting the skin.
  • Antihistamines are also often used as part of a good treatment regimen for eczema. This is very beneficial for the fast recovery.
  • The lukewarm baths is also a effective treatment for atopic dermatitis.
  • If the eczema has failed to respond to topical treatments or is too severe for topical treatment alone, ultraviolet light (phototherapy) may be helpful. Phototherapy is not suitable for everyone due to practical difficulties (such as travel or immobility) or photosensitivity.
  • The use of sedating antihistamines, will promote sleep and reduce scratching at night.
  • Medications: New medications known as immuno-modulators have been developed that help control inflammation and reduce immune system reactions when applied to the skin. Examples of these medications are tacrolimus ointment (Protopic*) and pimecrolimus cream (Elidel).
  • Topical Steroids - In general, super-potent steroids are avoided in children, and intermediate or mid-potency steroids are more commonly prescribed, such as Cutivate, Dermatop, Elocon, and 0.1 percent Triamcinolone.
  • Other treatments are also available for very difficult to treat cases of eczema, including using wet dressings, oral steroids, ultraviolet light therapy, and immunosuppressive drugs, like cylcosporin.
  • Apply lubricant immediately following the bath.
  • Keep child's fingernails filed short.
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