Atopic dermatitis

‘Atopy’ is an inherited tendency for tissue to inflame easily.


Atopic dermatitis is skin that is naturally likely to inflame. It generally expresses as a condition called eczema (though eczema can be caused by other things too).

‘Eczema’ simply refers to dry, chronically itchy skin rash, that can flare into blisters. Skin can thicken as well, typically near joints, and that can make it sting to bend your arms or knees.

There are some associated skin infections sometimes, because the skin’s barrier to bacteria is impaired.

Babies and toddlers get this kind of eczema most often. There is no variation by gender.


The causes of atopic eczema are multi-factorial, and not completely understood yet. Immunologists have observed an association between childhood eczema and milk, eggs, soy, wheat, and nuts.

House dust mites, pollen, animal hair, air pollution, and maternal smoking also increase the statistical risk of developing eczema. Just why, at the level of molecular medicine and genetics, is still not clear.

‘Eczema’, ‘atopy’, and ‘dermatitis’, in other words, are merely descriptive words for a syndrome that is actually quite complex.


If your skin is dry, moisten it. Go easy on showers and soaps. Shop for soap with a pH below 5.5. Use moisturizers. Use bath oils.

There are cortisone-based treatments your dermatologist can give you to manage flare-ups.

There are new immunomodulatory treatments, too. Two ointments, notably, seem able to calm the over-active immune drive in atopic skin.

If you’re getting a bacterial skin infection, there are antibiotics that can help that, too.

For long-term management, you may want to ask about potassium permanganate baths, crystal violet brushes, tar, and antihistamines.

Sunlight is also good. So go outside. (But don’t get a sunburn.)

Wear light clothing, so you don’t sweat.

Vacuum your house for dust mites frequently.

If you wonder about a connection between your eczema and what you eat, consult with your doctor before you start making any dietary modifications.


The eczema that kids get usually usually resolves by the start of school.

Atopy, being hereditary, is always with you, however. Symptoms like eczema are largely manageable when they develop, but you’ll always need to keep an eye out for them.

Questions about your skin? Ask our dermatologists online for $35.