Atopic Dermatitis: What is it? Causes and Treatment


Atopic dermatitis is a tricky condition. The temptation to give in to the occasional itch on our skin is usually considered to be the most natural of instincts. Who doesn’t fidget occasionally? None of us can say that we don’t touch our skin often.

But it does become a concern when the occasional itch becomes more persistent and our skin begins to show the wear and tear of it, in the form of rashes and redness. If allowed to fester, this may often prove to be skin conditions like eczema or specifically atopic dermatitis.

Are Atopic Dermatitis and Eczema the same?

Atopic dermatitis is one of the more common forms of eczema; a group of skin conditions that cause itching, redness and inflammation of the skin(1). They are fairly common, especially in children. If these beginning signs of atopic dermatitis are identified at the right time and treated at that stage, then the skin damage can be limited to a great extent.

When allowed to worsen or neglected, it can morph into an acute form of atopic dermatitis, which results in oozing plaques of extremely itchy and tender skin. So technically speaking, acute dermatitis is not exactly the same as eczema, but a form of it. This helps resolve the misconception that people have about eczema being a single type of skin condition.

While eczema has an umbrella covering the main skin conditions that cause the three aforementioned symptoms, atopic dermatitis has the term atopic which refers to anything strange in Greek, and dermatitis, refers to inflammation of the skin(2). The reason it is said that people with atopic dermatitis have “super sensitive” skin is because they have a decreased threshold for irritation.

Atopic dermatitis can be caused by a combination of factors and genetic predispositions happen to be the main one. It has been seen that children with parents who have the disease have higher chances of contracting it themselves(3).

The immune system, in this case, has a tendency to overreact to given environmental factors. There are many environmental factors that play a hand in contributing to atopic dermatitis and triggering it.

Dusty and pollution-heavy air makes atopic dermatitis worse since it increases its sensitivity and leads to further inflammation and redness. Moreover, subjecting the skin to strong chemicals and over-cleaning it at times may have the opposite effect of what you may be aiming for.

There are a high number of possible allergens and harsh substances in cleaning products like soap, hand washes, dish washes  and laundry detergents that may make the skin more vulnerable to infection(4).

Apart from increasing sensitivity, they are also capable of excessively drying skin out by removing natural oils that are necessary for healthy skin(5). This can permanently create defects in our skin, causing it to allow needed moisture out, and in turn, open the door for more bacteria to settle in.

How to diagnose Atopic Dermatitis?

Atopic dermatitis is notoriously similar to allergic reactions, in the way it is exhibited on the skin. But being a skin irritation that is known for being chronic (long-term), it can be distinguished from normal allergies. Normally, the expertise of a professional like a physician or a dermatologist is needed to accurately identify this as eczema and specifically as atopic dermatitis.

Apart from doing a thorough study of family history, doctors can diagnose this condition by taking notes on how much the skin is exposed to hot water and your sweating tendencies.

Along with this, having an idea of the normal climate that skin is exposed to can reveal a lot about the skin condition. For instance, lower humidity and drier warm weather are natural culprits of causing eczema related skin conditions.

Also read: Sun burn skin: How to treat Sun Damaged Skin

Lastly, the presence of skin plaque on the skin, with redness, itching, and inflammation are major signs indicating eczema, and if accompanied by weeping wounds with pus, it is a severe case. These are just some of the ways of diagnosing atopic dermatitis(6).

Can Atopic Dermatitis happen in babies?

Atopic dermatitis is one among the many skin conditions which are more prone in children than in adults. It typically shows first signs prior to the age of five, making it a skin condition capable of affecting children more. The most vulnerable areas are the elbows, back of the neck as well as arms.

It is chronic and is known to return at any random time, and even babies are vulnerable to atopic dermatitis. It is worse for children because of the itching. With this skin condition, the early onset of itching and redness indicates the itchiness of the skin is higher.

If scratched at, the chances of the skin darkening, forming scabs and scars are very high. Not to mention, there is an added risk of catching infections with such open wounds(5). Children more than adults are weaker at resisting this temptation and are known to itch at scabs, making them a serious concern.

Can Atopic Dermatitis be cured?

Atopic dermatitis, in general, is well known as a skin disease that cannot be completely cured. However, there is a wide range of options for treatment that help contain it and keep it dormant if managed correctly.

Prevention, in this case, is the best option for keeping atopic dermatitis at bay. Anything from having a good moisturizing routine, to changing to gentler soaps and detergents can be a healthy change for the skin.

By restricting lengthy showers in scalding hot waters and avoiding drying out the skin can also keep this condition away. Since atopic dermatitis weakens the immune system, it makes it susceptible to allergies, infections and even asthma. So having regular check-ups with a local physician and keeping track of your health will go a long way in battling a skin condition like atopic dermatitis.

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Picture of Dr Jisha Gomez

Dr Jisha Gomez

She is a highly skilled dermatology physician with strong expertise in improving skin & hair health through the development of corrective treatment combinations. She completed her Post-graduate Diploma in Dermatology from Cardiff, UK & Fellowship in Aesthetic Medicine (FAM) from the Institute of Laser and Aesthetic Medicine, Delhi with over 5+ years experience treating skin patients. She has worked in Government hospitals in Trivandrum and Bangalore. She is actively involved in creating awareness for healthy skin, breaking the social stigma based on skin colour & stopping steroid abuse in our country.