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Atopic Dermatitis (Eczema)

Atopic dermatitis, or eczema, is a chronic (long-lasting), inflammatory skin condition that begins in childhood and causes significant itching and discomfort, sleep disruption, stress, and decreased quality of life in patients and their families. It is a relapsing condition and frequently precedes the development of asthma and/or allergic rhinitis. Often atopic dermatitis occurs in characteristic areas of the body, such as the bends in the elbows or behind the knees.

Important aspects of treating eczema include aggressive skin care measures to prevent drying of the skin by application of emollient moisturizers and creams that can seal in moisture, application of topical steroids if necessary, and prevention and control of itching. Bacterial infection can also worsen the control of eczema and may occur if the skin is broken from repeated scratching.

There are numerous types of eczema, including:

  • Atopic dermatitis--a chronic skin disease characterized by itchy, inflamed skin.
  • Contact eczema--a localized reaction that includes redness, itching, and burning where the skin has come into contact with an allergen (an allergy-causing substance) or with an irritant such as an acid, a cleaning agent, or other chemical.
  • Allergic contact eczema--a red, itchy, weepy reaction where the skin has come into contact with a substance that the immune system recognizes as foreign, such as poison ivy or certain preservatives in creams and lotions.
  • Seborrheic eczema--a form of skin inflammation of unknown cause that presents as yellowish, oily, scaly patches of skin on the scalp, face, and occasionally other parts of the body.
  • Nummular eczema--coin-shaped patches of irritated skin most commonly on the arms, back, buttocks, and lower legs that may be crusted, scaling, and extremely itchy.
  • Neurodermatitis--scaly patches of skin on the head, lower legs, wrists, or forearms caused by a localized itch (such as an insect bite) that becomes intensely irritated when scratched.
  • Stasis dermatitis--a skin irritation on the lower legs, generally related to circulatory problems.
  • Dyshidrotic eczema--irritation of the skin on the palms of hands and soles of the feet characterized by clear, deep blisters that itch and burn.