Atopic dermatitis (AD) is the most common chronic inflammatory skin disease. Between 10-30% of children and 2-10% of adults will have atopic dermatitis. Severe atopic dermatitis and its associated severe itch can cause sleep disturbances in infants and can negatively affect quality of life in both children and adults.
What Does Atopic Dermatitis Look Like?
The characteristic symptom of atopic dermatitis is itch. The rashes of AD are red and scaly and can be localized or more widespread. The face, inner arms and skin behind the knees are frequently affected in children and adults, and adults often have hand eczema as part of their atopic dermatitis. Babies frequently develop atopic dermatitis on the face.
What Causes Atopic Dermatitis?
Genetics play an important role in the development of atopic dermatitis. This condition frequently runs in families. Affected individuals typically have what is known as a "barrier defect"; their skin tends to lose water and allow bacteria and irritants to get in.
Who Gets Atopic Dermatitis?
Anyone can get atopic dermatitis. Most commonly, AD starts in childhood, and 45% of cases of this condition develop within the first six months of life. About 30% of cases of AD will start after puberty or in adulthood. This later-onset type seems to be more common in women.
Are There Other Conditions Associated with Atopic Dermatitis?
Yes. Individuals with atopic dermatitis are more likely to have other allergic diseases such as asthma or seasonal allergies. They are also more likely to have family members with these conditions.
How is Atopic Dermatitis Treated?
Most cases of atopic dermatitis are treated with topical medications. Topical cortisone creams are the mainstay of treatment and are usually highly effective. Topical immunomodulators are cortisone-free topical products that are also frequently used.
More severe cases of atopic dermatitis are sometimes treated with phototherapy (medical administration of UV light) or oral medications such as Methotrexate or Imuran. A new injectable medication called Dupilumab has recently become available in Canada for the treatment of severe atopic dermatitis. The goal of treatment in atopic dermatitis is to decrease the symptoms of itch and make people more comfortable. Currently, available treatments do not cure atopic dermatitis.
Will my Atopic Dermatitis go Away?
About 60% of babies and young children with atopic dermatitis go into remission by the time they are 12.
What are some Skin Care Tips for Individuals with Atopic dermatitis?
- Moisturize, moisturize, moisturize!!! This is crucial for people with atopic dermatitis. Apply a moisturizer liberally immediately after your bath or shower. Dr. Levy recommends a moisturizer that contains ceramides for children and adults with atopic dermatitis.
- Avoid harsh soaps or cleansers. These strip your skin of important oils. Use unscented liquid cleansers instead of soap
- Bathe daily (or shower), for 10 minutes in lukewarm water. Apply a moisturizer afterwards
- See an MD for prescription treatments that will help with the itch and make you more comfortable
- More information on proper skin care in atopic dermatitis can be found here.