What is Atopic Dermatitis?

by Frank Litchenberger, MD, PhD, Medical Director at AD RescueWear

The term “atopic dermatitis” is often used interchangeably with the terms “eczema” and “dermatitis,” which makes learning about the condition confusing. To clear things up, atopic dermatitis (AD) is the most common form of eczema, which is an inflammatory skin condition.

Each of the six types of eczema appears differently, but most people associate eczema with the symptoms of AD. People with AD develop itchy, scaly patches when their skin overreacts to a perceived threat. External substances — something your skin came into contact with — or internal factors — like hormones, stress or food allergies — can cause this inflammatory skin response.

What Are the Symptoms of Atopic Dermatitis?

Atopic dermatitis is a condition that comes and goes. When the condition worsens and rash-like patches appear on your skin, it’s called a “flare.” Signs of an AD flare include:

  • Dry, scaly patches on the face, arms or legs
  • Blister-like sores that leak fluid
  • Intense itchiness
  • Redness

Who is More Likely to Get Atopic Dermatitis?

Atopic dermatitis is most common among children. About 90 percent of people with AD develop it during childhood. Of those, half will continue to have flares as adults, while the rest will grow out of it.

The cause of AD is unknown, but there are factors that make some people more susceptible. The most significant contributor is having at least one parent who has AD, asthma or hay fever, which increases the likelihood of developing AD by at least 50 percent. Also, living in a city or cold climate, or having a higher socioeconomic status may increase the chance of developing AD.

Some people with AD also have a genetic mutation that weakens their skin barrier. This causes skin to be drier and reduces its ability to keep out germs, which is why people with AD are more prone to skin infections.

How Is Atopic Dermatitis Treated?

“Treatments for AD vary depending on how severe your symptoms are,” said Dr. Frank Lichtenberger, M.D., Ph.D., medical director at AD RescueWear. “It’s important to see a licensed medical professional, like your family doctor or dermatologist, to determine which treatment is appropriate for you.”

Possible AD treatments include:

  • Medications you apply to the skin
  • Oral medications that suppress the immune system response
  • Phototherapy, which exposes skin to a specific kind of light to reduce symptoms

Are There Any Home Remedies for Atopic Dermatitis?

Creating a bathing and moisturizing routine that involves prescription or over-the-counter lotions (look for eczema-safe options) is essential. It helps to reduce surface germs and keep skin moist.

It’s also crucial to wrap the affected areas with non-irritating fabric such as pure cotton or a specialty medical eczema wrap (a garment made of gentle, breathable fabric). This is called “dry wrapping” and it protects skin from coming into contact with anything that could trigger further reaction.

For moderate-to-severe AD, “wet wrap therapy” is the most effective at-home treatment to reduce symptoms. For this, you moisten fabric before wrapping it around the skin, which helps soothe itching and promotes a healing environment. (Watch this video on how to apply wet wrap therapy.)

You can find all the products you need to treat AD and protect your skin in our eczema relief store.

The Eczema Relief Store

NOTE: This content is for informational purposes only and is not intended to serve as a substitute for a consultation, diagnosis and/or medical treatment by a healthcare provider.

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