Atopic Eczema

Atopic eczema (atopic dermatitis)Atopic eczema (atopic dermatitis) is the most common form of eczema. While it most commonly impacts children, people of any age can suffer from it, although in most cases it will start in childhood.

It is a chronic condition. This means that if you do suffer from it, the symptoms will likely appear again in the future. The condition may clear up eventually, but it is likely that you will always suffer from it to some degree, particularly if it starts to develop during adulthood.

Atopic Eczema Symptoms

Atopic eczema, for the most part, should be easy to diagnose. However, it is important that you talk to your doctor if you believe that you are suffering from the condition. This is because there are other conditions, many of which are a lot more serious, which could cause the same symptoms that you are suffering from. In addition to this, if you head to the doctor, they will be able to provide you with guidance on ensuring that you keep your symptoms to the minimum, although how you can go about that is out of the scope of this page.

Atopica eczema can occur all over the body. However, in most cases, the symptoms will appear in one of the following places:

  • Hands
  • Fingers
  • Elbows
  • Backs of knees
  • Face
  • Scalp

The severity of the condition will also vary from person to person. In fact, in some cases, the symptoms in some people will be so mild that you never even realize that you have it. In others, the symptoms are going to be so extreme that they may be taken out of action for a few days.

The symptoms will be dry, red, itchy, and cracked skin. It will often be incredibly sore. Those who are suffering from an eczema flare-up may find themselves constantly scratching. This can lead to a lack of sleep and the like (this is not an actual symptom of the condition, more something that people report because the symptom is so uncomfortable)

As mentioned at the start; in most cases the symptoms will only appear for a short while before they disappear again. Most people report that they last a couple of days, while some people state that it can last weeks (in the more serious of cases). Since this is a chronic condition, it is likely that the symptoms will come back eventually. Some people may go weeks without a flare-up, others may go months, and some may even go years. Of course, this is all going to be dependent on the severity of the condition. In some cases, you may have a lot of flare-ups throughout your childhood, but once you get to adulthood you never see your symptoms again (this is quite rare)

Atopic Eczema Causes

Nobody knows what causes atopic eczema. It is likely due to a combination of different factors. We do know that you are more likely to suffer from the condition if one or both of your parents also suffered from the condition. This does indicate that it may be genetic, but there are some people who have spontaneously developed the condition without anybody in their close family ever suffering from atopic eczema. It is worth noting that this is not an infectious disease. You can’t suffer from it just because you came into contact with somebody else who is suffering from the condition.

We do know that those suffering from atopic eczema have skin which is incredibly dry, even when they are not in the midst of a flare-up. This causes the skin to react more to certain triggers (more on those in a short while). It is this which leads to the skin becoming red and itchy. Essentially, this is similar to an allergy. The itchiness is down to your immune system having an adverse reaction to something. Your immune system, as you know, is the bodily function designed to ensure that you stay nice and healthy. However, in those suffering from atopic eczema, it reacts a little bit too much.

As mentioned previously, there are several triggers which may increase the chances of you suffering from an atopic eczema flare-up if you already have the condition. However, there are situations where this may cause a flare-up even if you have not suffered from the condition before:

  • Irritants: this seems to be the ‘number one’ cause of atopic eczema. If you come into contact with certain shampoos and other soaps (including washing up liquid), then your skin may react adversely as it does not like the chemicals at all.
  • Certain allergens may increase the risk of you suffering from atopic eczema. In fact, most of the people who suffer from this condition have other allergies that they battle daily. This includes those who are allergic to dust mites, pollen, molds, and pet fur.
  • If the weather is cold or if it is exceedingly dry.
  • If you suffer from certain food allergies. You are more likely to suffer from the condition if you have an allergy to cows’ milk, peanuts, wheat, soya, and eggs.
  • Certain fabrics can irritate the skin. This normally includes wool and synthetic fabrics.
  • Hormonal changes can increase the risk of you suffering from a flare-up. Many women will suffer from the condition shortly before they get their period or if they are pregnant.

There are other factors which can make your symptoms worse. For example; people who report their symptoms get worse when they are stressed. This, again, points to there being something a bit ‘wrong’ with the immune system as the immune system never works quite as well when a person is stressed.

When you visit a doctor, in order to devise a treatment plan, they will talk to you about what potential triggers you have had to deal with in your life and which are more likely to cause your flare-up. Remember; this is just a list of some triggers. It is not a complete list of all of them as they do vary from person to person.

Read more about Eczema types here.

Image credit: By James Heilman, MD (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0]