What is Atopic Dermatitis? - Fairview Health Services
 
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What is Atopic Dermatitis?

Atopic dermatitis (eczema) causes chronic skin irritation and is frequently found in infants, teens, and adults. This disease is often genetic (runs in families). It is linked with allergies, such as hay fever and sometimes asthma. Patches of skin become dry, red, itchy, and scaly.  In older adults, dry skin is often called xerosis. Sometimes, eczema is limited to the hands or feet. If often improves when the skin is well hydrated and gets worse when the skin is dry. You can help control its symptoms by practicing good self-care and avoiding anything that causes flare-ups (such as sunburn or vigorous scratching).

Image of child's face affected by atopic dermatitis

Where do you have symptoms?

Atopic dermatitis symptoms can appear anywhere on the body. But, in most cases, they vary based on the patient’s age. In infants, irritation appears frequently on the cheeks, near the mouth, and under the eyelids. In children aged 2 through 10, skin folds, such as the backs of the knees, or in the arm crease, are most often affected. In children 11 and older and in adults, symptoms can affect multiple areas.

What triggers symptoms?

Atopic dermatitis symptoms flare because of many factors. These include skin dryness, scratching, stress, harsh soaps, and allergens, such as dust or wool. Try to avoid anything that causes flare-ups.

Image of child's hands showing dermatitis between fingers

Image of child's legs with patches of dermatitis on the backs of the knees and ankles.

Recognizing what causes flare-ups

To pinpoint what causes atopic dermatitis to flare, keep a list of factors that seem to affect your skin. Start by filling in the spaces below. Then, keep writing them down in a notebook or diary. The factors that affect each person vary. So, keep your own list and try to avoid your triggers. A good starting place for treatment for anyone with dry skin is to use a daily moisturizer.

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