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Eczema health centre

Atopic eczema (atopic dermatitis)

Eczema is a skin condition caused by inflammation and is a chronic problem for many people. Around one in five children in the UK has eczema and in eight out of 10 cases, atopic eczema occurs before the age of five. Many children outgrow it before reaching school age.

Atopic eczema, or atopic dermatitis, is the most common of the many types of eczema. While the word " dermatitis" means inflammation of the skin, "atopic" refers to an allergic tendency, which is often inherited. These eczema sufferers have a higher risk of developing other allergic conditions, like asthma or hayfever.

eczema on skin

Atopic eczema facts

The exact cause of atopic eczema is not known, but it can be seen as a skin allergy where the skin's barrier is weak or damaged from environmental or genetic factors.

Fortunately most children outgrow of atopic eczema, although there is a risk of recurrence in adolescence or adulthood.

Atopic eczema is commonly found in and around folds of skin such as behind the knees, in the elbow creases, around the neck, eyes and ears.

There isn't one test that can check for it. Diagnosing atopic eczema generally involves an examination, as well as questions about allergies, stress and exposure to irritants.

Atopic eczema: Tips for home care

Maintaining the skin's barrier is key to coping with atopic eczema as well as understanding what might be causing it and what eases the symptoms.

  • Soothe with a lukewarm wash. Hot water may feel good on itchy skin, but it also strips the skin barrier of necessary oils, drying it out, which leads to more irritation and itch. When you do bathe, pat skin dry, don't rub.
  • Avoid harsh soaps. The last thing you want to do is aggravate already troubled skin, so when you wash, steer clear of foaming, deodorant, scented or antibacterial soaps, cleansers or bubble baths.
  • Moisturise well. Moisturising is important for relieving eczema symptoms. Seek medical advice on suitable products and emollients.
  • Manage the itch. You can also help control itching with topical or other anti-itch medication.
  • Watch for infection. Many people with atopic eczema tend to get secondary bacterial infections, so be alert for the signs, which may include: redness, red scaly patches or streaks, swelling or blisters.
  • Wool and synthetic fibres can inflame already irritated skin, so opt for cotton clothes and keep clothing loose.

WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on March 17, 2016

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