Atopic dermatitis, commonly referred to as eczema, is a troubling skin condition that I see a lot of this time of year. This disease causes itchy, inflamed skin typically on the insides of the elbows, backs of the knees, and on the face, but can cover most of the body. Atopic dermatitis is not contagious. Research has shown that this skin condition has a genetic component, meaning that the person affected inherited it from a parent. If one parent has the condition then the child has a 1 in 4 chance of having some form of the disease.
Atopic dermatitis almost always begins in childhood. Its symptoms are dry, itchy, scaly skin, cracks behind ears or on hands, and rashes on the cheeks, arm and legs. This skin condition is known for its waxing and waning characteristics. During “flare ups”, open weeping or crusted sores may develop from scratching or from infections than can coincide with the skin condition. Often the problem fades during childhood though patients may have a lifelong tendency to have dry skin, occupation skin disorders (ex. hand dermatitis), skin infections, and eye problems.
Children with atopic dermatitis may suffer from asthma and hay fever at the same time, or one or both of these conditions may develop later. About 10% of all people at some time are affected by atopic dermatitis.
Are Eczema and Atopic Dermatitis the same thing?
No they are not. Even though eczema is very commonly used to describe atopic dermatitis, there are several other skin diseases that are eczemas as well. Eczema is a general term for any type of dermatitis or “inflammation of the skin.” Atopic dermatitis (AD) is the most severe and chronic kind of eczema.
What causes Atopic dermatitis to flare?
Exposure to certain trigger factors, or substances/conditions, which worsen the condition such as irritants, allergens, emotional stress, heat and sweating, and infections can trigger flares. The key to controlling AD is to avoid or reduce the exposure to the patients individual trigger factors.
Allergens are more subtle trigger factors. Allergens do not irritate, but can trigger an AD flare-up in those who have become allergic to it from a prior exposure. These allergens can be things such as animal or vegetable protein in foods, pollens, or pets. When exposed to the allergen, inflammation producing cells come into the skin releasing chemicals that cause itching and redness. Causing the condition to worsen, the patient often scratches and rubs the affected area.
Food allergies can also cause flares. It is important to identify the trigger foods. The surest way is to observe a worsening of eczema when a particular food is eaten.
What can be done to when Atopic Dermatitis flares?
The best line of defense against AD is prevention, but flare-ups rarely can be avoided.
Using moisturizers with ceramides such as CeraVe or Cetaphil is the best and safest way to prevent dry skin and the first line of defense against atopic dermatitis flares. Moisturizers trap water beneath the skin making it flexible and less likely to crack and split. Creams are superior to lotions which contain alcohol that can actually dry the skin.
Prompt treatment directed by a physician is needed when flares occur. Topical cortisone (steroid) creams applied directly to the affected areas are helpful and are the mainstay of treatment.
If the patient develops open sores, pus filled blisters, and/or cold sore like lesions, it is recommended to see your physician to make sure a coinciding infection is not occurring. Often staph and strep infections occur with atopic dermatitis and without proper management of the infection, the atopic dermatitis will not heal properly.
Establish a skin care routine– follow physician instr
uctions. It takes time and effort to get atopic dermatitis under control…SO DONT GIVE UP!
Establish a schedule with a regular daily routine– this is good for parents and children to include into daily life, just like regular brushing and flossing of teeth.
Be aware of scratching– try to limit scratching by keeping busy with tasks that involve the use of your hands. Avoid low humidity and to wear cotton clothing.
Moisturize, moisturize, moisturize!- it’s the only way to develop a healthy barrier, making it more difficult for atopic dermatitis to break down.
For great information and support for you eczema patients, visit the National Eczema Association. Stay tuned for next week’s blog…This is Key!
“All About Atopic Dermatitis.” National Eczema Association. National Eczema Assoc., 2012. 21 February 2013.