What is atopic dermatitis?
Atopic dermatitis is a chronic, itchy skin condition that is very common in children but may occur at any age. It is also known as eczema and atopic eczema. It is the most common form of dermatitis.
Atopic dermatitis usually occurs in people who have an 'atopic tendency'. This means they may develop any or all of three closely linked conditions; atopic dermatitis, asthma and hay fever (allergic rhinitis). Often these conditions run within families with a parent, child or sibling also affected. A family history of asthma, eczema or hay fever is particularly useful in diagnosing atopic dermatitis in infants.
Atopic dermatitis is not contagious! It arises because of a complex interaction of genetic and environmental factors. These include skin irritants, the weather, temperature and non-specific triggers: see Causes of atopic dermatitis.
What does atopic dermatitis look like?
There is quite a variation in the appearance of atopic dermatitis between individuals. From time to time, most people have acute flares with inflamed, red, sometimes blistered and weepy patches. In between flares, the skin may appear normal or suffer from chronic eczema with dry, thickened and itchy areas.
The presence of infection or an additional skin condition, the creams applied, the age of the person, their ethnic origin and other factors can alter the way eczema looks and feels.
There are however some general patterns to where the eczema is found on the body according to the age of the affected person.