Atopic dermatitis, also known as eczema, is a non-contagious inflammatory skin condition.

It is a chronic disease characterized by dry, itchy skin that can lead to redness, swelling, cracking, or weep clear fluid when scratched. People with eczema also may be particularly susceptible to bacterial, viral, and fungal skin infections.

Affects an estimated 30 percent of the U.S. population, mostly children and adolescents.  People who live in cities and dry climates may be more likely to get this disease.

The condition tends to worsen when a person is exposed to certain triggers, such as

  • Pollen, mold, dust mites, animals, and certain foods (for allergic individuals)
  • Cold and dry air
  • Colds or the flu
  • Skin contact with irritating chemicals
  • Skin contact with rough materials such as wool
  • Emotional factors such as stress
  • Fragrances or dyes added to skin lotions or soaps.
  • Taking too many baths or showers and not moisturizing the skin properly afterward may also make eczema worse.

No one really knows what causes atopic dermatitis.Children are more likely to develop the disorder if a parent has had it or another disease like asthma or hay fever. This indicates that genetics are involved. Environmental factors can bring on symptoms of atopic dermatitis at any time in affected people.

A combination of genetic and environmental factors appears to be involved in the development of eczema. The condition often is associated with other allergic diseases such as asthma, hay fever, and food allergy. Children whose parents have asthma and allergies are more likely to develop atopic dermatitis than children of parents without allergic diseases. Approximately 30 percent of children with atopic dermatitis have food allergies, and many develop asthma or respiratory allergies. People who live in cities or drier climates also appear more likely to develop the disease.


Symptoms include

Dry and itchy skin.

Rashes on the face, inside the elbows, behind the knees, and on the hands and feet.

Scratching the skin can cause:

  • Redness
  • Swelling
  • Cracking
  • “Weeping” clear fluid
  • Crusting
  • Thick skin
  • Scaling

Currently, there is no single test to diagnose atopic dermatitis, but your doctor may ask you and your medical history, including

Your family history of allergies.

Whether you also have diseases such as hay fever or asthma.

Exposure to irritants, such as:

  • Wool or synthetic fibers.
  • Soaps and detergents.
  • Some perfumes and cosmetics.
  • Substances such as chlorine, mineral oil, or solvents.
  • Dust or sand.
  • Cigarette smoke.
  • Sleep problems.
  • Foods that seem to be related to skin flares.
  • Previous treatments for skin-related symptoms.
  • Use of steroids or other medications.

Identify factors that may trigger flares of atopic dermatitis by pricking the skin with a needle that contains something that you might be allergic to (in small amounts).

Your doctor may need to see you several times to diagnose you. In some cases, your family doctor or pediatrician may refer you to a dermatologist (doctor specializing in skin disorders) or allergist (allergy specialist) for further evaluation.

The goals in treating atopic dermatitis are to heal the skin and prevent flares. You should watch for changes in the skin to find out what treatments help the most.

Treatments can include


  • Skin creams or ointments that control swelling and lower allergic reactions.
  • Corticosteroids.
  • Antibiotics to treat infections caused by bacteria.
  • Antihistamines that make people sleepy to help stop nighttime scratching.
  • Drugs that suppress the immune system.

Light therapy.

Skin care that helps heal the skin and keep it healthy.

Avoiding things that cause an allergic reaction.