Atopic Dermatitis Symptoms

Atopic Dermatitis is one of many forms of eczema that affects people for a lifetime. Many atopic dermatitis treatments can alleviate the symptoms of this condition, but they do not provide a cure. Over 26 million people in the United States suffer from atopic dermatitis, and this condition affects people of every age, race, ethnicity, and sex. No group of people is more prone to developing this condition than another group.

Atopic dermatitis generally develops in infancy or childhood, yet 1-in-10 people will develop this condition in adulthood. According to the National Eczema Association, over ten percent of children in the United States have atopic dermatitis. One out of every three children has a moderate to severe form of this condition. Over ten percent of adults also have this condition.

What Causes Atopic Dermatitis?

Scientists and researchers are unsure of how atopic dermatitis and other forms of eczema develop. A combination of genetics and environmental triggers are factors in atopic dermatitis. People with a family history of eczema, allergies, or asthma are more susceptible to developing atopic dermatitis. Toxins and other harmful substances inside and outside the body can cause the immune system to overreact and cause inflammation on the skin.

A genetic mutation is also considered responsible for atopic dermatitis. Filaggrin is a protein that helps the skin create a protective barrier to keep out bacteria and viruses out while maintaining moisture in the skin. When the gene that makes filaggrin mutates, the gene does not create enough filaggrin. A lack of filaggrin leaves people with dry, infection-prone skin.

Some of the environmental factors that can cause atopic dermatitis in people who are prone to developing this condition include:

  • Cold, dry weather
  • Soaps, laundry detergent, and household cleaners
  • Synthetic fibers
  • Physical irritants and allergens like pollen, dust, smoke, and dander

Atopic Dermatitis Symptoms

Dry, itchy skin that turns into a rash is the main symptom of atopic dermatitis. The urge to itch increases when the affected area of the skin becomes inflamed. Inflammation results in an increase in blood flow to that area. Scratching the affected area leads to more inflammation and skin infections.

Atopic dermatitis affects people differently at different ages. Some of the symptoms of this skin condition in infants include:

  • A dry, scaly rash on the head and cheeks
  • A rash that weeps clear fluid

Some symptoms in children and adults who have had atopic dermatitis since childhood include:

  • A rash in the creases of the elbow and knees
  • A rash with scaly patches of skin
  • Thick, leathery skin with lightened or darkened spots
  • Rashes around the neck and face

Atopic Dermatitis Treatments Can Control Itching and Repair the Skin

It is vital for people affected by atopic dermatitis to moisturize the affected areas of the skin. Treatments for atopic dermatitis such as corticosteroid creams and ointments can help reduce itching and help repair cracks in the skin caused by persistent scratching. Other creams and ointments have calcineurin inhibitors. These drugs affect the immune system to help control skin outbreaks.
Dermatitis Treatments

Atopic Dermatitis Treatments Can Fight Infections

Areas of the skin affected by atopic dermatitis are more susceptible to bacterial infection than normal skin. Open sores and cracks in the skin attract harmful bacteria. Your doctor may prescribe short-term atopic dermatitis treatments such as an antibiotic cream or an oral medication to treat the infection.

Atopic Dermatitis Treatments Can Control Inflammation

A severe case of atopic dermatitis can cause inflammation. Your doctor may prescribe an oral corticosteroid to help reduce the inflammation. Oral corticosteroids have serious side effects, so these atopic dermatitis treatments are only for short-term use.

Common Atopic Dermatitis Treatments

Several over-the-counter atopic dermatitis treatments do not require a doctor’s prescription. Moisturizers are the most common form of atopic dermatitis treatments and are best for long-term usage. The different types of moisturizers that you can use include:

  • Lotions for mild to moderate atopic dermatitis
  • Creams for hydrating chronically dry skin
  • Ointments for sensitive skin
  • Topical low-strength hydrocortisone creams like Cortaid for long-term use

You can use oral antihistamines like Benadryl with the other non-prescription moisturizing treatments.

You need a doctor’s prescription if OTC remedies do not work. Prescription medications include topical corticosteroids, non-steroid topical ointments, and anti-inflammatory injections.

Frequently Asked Questions - FAQs

Phototherapy treatments are a secondary option if your skin is not responding to OTC and prescription treatments. Ultraviolet A light from sun exposure has a damaging effect on the skin where atopic dermatitis is present. Phototherapy treats the skin with narrowband ultraviolet B light to prevent this damage from occurring.

Unfortunately, there is no cure for atopic dermatitis. Treatments such as creams, ointments, gels, and moisturizers can only reduce the symptoms of this chronic condition. This condition will periodically go away then reappear. Children who develop this skin condition can see their skin condition naturally improve as they get older.

Atopic dermatitis and all other forms of eczema involve a gene variation that affects your skin’s ability to retain moisture. This gene variation also prevents your skin from protecting you against bacteria, allergens, and other irritants. If you have a family history of atopic dermatitis, then you are likely to develop this condition. The best thing you can do is use different types of treatments to minimize the symptoms.


By understanding what triggers your flare-ups and taking good care of your skin, you can manage the severity of your atopic dermatitis. Work with your doctor and use different treatments to figure out which treatments work best for you.

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