Atopic dermatitis (eczema) is a condition that makes your skin red and itchy. It's common in children but can occur at any age. Atopic dermatitis is long lasting (chronic) and tends to flare periodically. It may be accompanied by asthma or hay fever.
No cure has been found for atopic dermatitis. But treatments and self-care measures can relieve itching and prevent new outbreaks. For example, it helps to avoid harsh soaps, moisturize your skin regularly, and apply medicated creams or ointments.
Atopic dermatitis (eczema) signs and symptoms vary widely from person to person and include:
Atopic dermatitis most often begins before age 5 and may persist into adolescence and adulthood. For some people, it flares periodically and then clears up for a time, even for several years.
See a doctor if you or your child:
Seek immediate medical attention for your child if the rash looks infected and he or she has a fever.
Healthy skin helps retain moisture and protects you from bacteria, irritants and allergens. Eczema is related to a gene variation that affects the skin's ability to provide this protection. This allows your skin to be affected by environmental factors, irritants and allergens.
In some children, food allergies may play a role in causing eczema.
No lab test is needed to identify atopic dermatitis (eczema). Your doctor will likely make a diagnosis by examining your skin and reviewing your medical history. He or she may also use patch testing or other tests to rule out other skin diseases or identify conditions that accompany your eczema.
If you suspect a certain food caused your child's rash, tell the doctor and ask about identifying potential food allergies.
Complications of atopic dermatitis (eczema) may include:
The following tips may help prevent bouts of dermatitis (flares) and minimize the drying effects of bathing:
Try to identify and avoid triggers that worsen the condition. Things that can worsen the skin reaction include sweat, stress, obesity, soaps, detergents, dust and pollen. Reduce your exposure to your triggers.
Infants and children may experience flares from eating certain foods, including eggs, milk, soy and wheat. Talk with your child's doctor about identifying potential food allergies.
Take a bleach bath. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends considering a bleach bath to help prevent flares. A diluted-bleach bath decreases bacteria on the skin and related infections. Add 1/2 cup (118 milliliters) of household bleach, not concentrated bleach, to a 40-gallon (151-liter) bathtub filled with warm water. Measures are for a U.S.-standard-sized tub filled to the overflow drainage holes.
Soak from the neck down or just the affected areas of skin for about 10 minutes. Do not submerge the head. Take a bleach bath no more than twice a week.
To help reduce itching and soothe inflamed skin, try these self-care measures:
Atopic dermatitis can be especially stressful, frustrating or embarrassing for adolescents and young adults. It can disrupt their sleep and even lead to depression. And close family members of people with this condition may face financial, social and emotional problems.
Seek psychological support from counselors, support groups, friends or family.
The primary risk factor for atopic dermatitis is having a personal or family history of eczema, allergies, hay fever or asthma.