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Atopic dermatitis (also known as AD) is the most common type of eczema. In fact, 17.8 million Americans have atopic dermatitis — which often appears as a red, itchy rash normally on the cheeks, arms and legs.
Atopic dermatitis exists with two other allergic conditions: asthma and hay fever (allergic rhinitis). People who have asthma and/or hay fever or who have family members who do, are more likely to develop AD.
Atopic dermatitis typically begins in childhood, usually in the first six months of a baby’s life. Even though it’s the most common form of eczema, it’s also the most severe and long-lasting. When you or your child have atopic dermatitis, it may improve at times, but at others it may get worse or flare up. Often, atopic dermatitis disappears as a child grows older, though some children will continue to experience atopic dermatitis into adulthood.
We don’t know the exact cause of atopic dermatitis. Researchers do know that a combination of genetics and environmental factors are involved. When something from outside the body triggers the immune system, the skin cells don’t behave like they should, causing the skin to flare up.
We also know that atopic dermatitis runs in families, but we don’t know the exact way it is passed from parents to children. If one parent has AD, asthma, or hay fever, there’s about a 50% chance that their child will have at least one of these diseases. If both parents have one or more of these conditions, the chances are much greater that their child will, too.
An estimated 10% of all people worldwide are affected by atopic dermatitis at some point in their life. The condition seems to be more common in urban areas and developed countries and affects men and women of all races equally. Either way, atopic dermatitis is not contagious. You or your child cannot “catch” it from another person, or give it to someone else.
If you scratch too much, it could cause your atopic dermatitis to flare up
Atopic dermatitis is considered a more severe type of eczema. People with atopic dermatitis may experience a number of different sensitivities for the rest of their lives:
There are other types of eczema that cause itching and redness, but some will also cause your skin to blister, “weep,” or peel. It’s important to understand which of the eight types of eczema you or your child may have, so that you can better treat and manage it. The only way to be sure that you or your child has this condition is to make an appointment with your doctor.
Learn more about all eight types of eczema and their symptoms and triggers.
Unlike other kinds of eczema, atopic dermatitis does not usually go away in a few days or weeks. It might get better or worse but the atopic dermatitis symptoms typically return.
Atopic dermatitis is very itchy. Your or your child’s skin can become damaged from repeated scratching or rubbing. Atopic dermatitis normally appears on the cheeks, arms and legs, but can be anywhere on the body.
Symptoms of atopic dermatitis include:
The key to staying healthy while living with atopic dermatitis is to manage your symptoms. That’s why it’s good to know about the everyday triggers in your surroundings that might make your atopic dermatitis flare up.
Some of the most common atopic dermatitis triggers:
Learn more about the most common causes and triggers of atopic dermatitis.
There are a number of things you can do to manage your atopic dermatitis. The most important thing is to be consistent with your skin care. Setting up a daily routine is important for you or your child so that you are able to live more comfortably with atopic dermatitis.
Some things you can do to help control your atopic dermatitis:
Depending on the severity of symptoms, atopic dermatitis can be treated with topical medications, which are applied to the skin; phototherapy, a form of light treatment; immunosuppressant drugs that broadly curb the immune system; and biologic drugs that target specific areas of the immune system.
Learn more about how to control and treat your atopic dermatitis.