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Atopic dermatitis


Atopic dermatitis is a long-term (chronic) skin disorder that involves scaly and itchy rashes. It is also called eczema.

Other forms of eczema include:

Alternative Names:

Infantile eczema; Dermatitis - atopic; Eczema

Exams and Tests:

Your health care provider will look at your skin and do a physical exam. You may need a skin biopsy to confirm the diagnosis or rule out other causes of dry, itchy skin.

Diagnosis is based on:

  • How your skin looks
  • Your personal and family history

Allergy skin testing may be helpful for people with:

  • Hard-to-treat atopic dermatitis
  • Other allergy symptoms
  • Skin rashes that form only on certain areas of the body after exposure to a specific chemical
Outlook (Prognosis):

Atopic dermatitis lasts a long time. You can control it by treating it, avoiding irritants, and by keeping your skin well-moisturized.

In children, the condition often starts to go away around age 5 to 6, but flare-ups will often occur. In adults, the problem is generally a long-term or returning condition.

Atopic dermatitis may be harder to control if it:

  • Begins at an early age
  • Involves a large amount of the body
  • Occurs along with allergies and asthma
  • Occurs in someone with a family history of eczema
Possible Complications:

Some complications of atopic dermatitis that may occur are:

  • Infections of the skin caused by bacteria, fungi, or viruses
  • Permanent scars
  • Side effects from long-term use of medicines to control eczema
When to Contact a Medical Professional:

Call  your health care provider if:

  • Atopic dermatitis does not get better with home care 
  • Symptoms get worse or treatment does not work
  • You have signs of infection (such as fever, redness, or pain)

Children who are breast-fed until age 4 months may be less likely to get atopic dermatitis.

If a child is not breast-fed, using a formula that contains processed cow milk protein (called partially hydrolyzed formula) may cut down on the chances of developing atopic dermatitis.


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Atopic Dearmatitis, Eczema, and Noninfectious Immunodeficiency Disorders. In: James WD, Berger TG, Elston DM, eds. Andrews' Diseases of the Skin: Clinical Dermatology. 11th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 5.

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Boguniewicz M, Leung DYM. Atopic Dermatitis. In: Adkinson NF Jr, Bochner BS, Burks AW, et al, eds. Middleton's Allergy: Principles and Practice. 8th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2013:chap 34.

Greer FR, Sicherer SH, Burks, W and the Committee on Nutrition and Section on Allergy and Immunology. Effects of early nutritional interventions on the development of atopic disease in infants and children: The role of maternal dietary restriction, breastfeeding, timing of introduction of complementary foods, and hydrolyzed formulas. Pediatrics. 2008;121:183-191.

Lewis-Jones S, Mugglestone MA; Guideline Development Group. Management of atopic eczema in children aged up to 12 years: summary of NICE guidance. BMJ. 2007;335:1263-1264.

Review Date: 11/12/2014
Reviewed By: Richard J. Moskowitz, MD, dermatologist in private practice, Mineola, NY. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed physician should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. Copyright 2002 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

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