Atopic dermatitis is often known as eczema, but in reality it is only one of a number of itchy, dry skin rashes that fall into that category. Atopic dermatitis is a specific form of eczema, characterized typically by an early age of onset. Most cases of eczema begin in infancy or childhood, and for many, eczema begins to fade away spontaneously by the age of 5 to 10. Some cases, however, persist into adulthood; rarely, atopic dermatitis can develop for the first time in adulthood.
Atopic dermatitis is part of the atopic triad, three conditions that are all part of an inherited syndrome known as atopy. The other conditions include asthma and allergic rhinitis (allergies such as hay fever, pollen allergy, etc.). Atopy often runs in families, although different family members may get different types—one with asthma, a second with allergies, a third with all three problems.
Atopic dermatitis is extremely itchy. The flaky, dry rash most commonly forms in areas with folds, such as in the folds of the arms, behind the knees, and tops of the ankles. With longstanding itching, the areas often become thick and leathery in texture. The itching can be severe enough to disrupt sleep, schoolwork, and behavior. Treatment typically includes cortisones – used topically for milder cases, and internally on for severe flares. More severe cases may benefit from other treatments such as Elidel or Protopic, non-steroid based topical medications. More so than psoriasis, atopic dermatitis remains a treatment challenge with less-than-perfect results for more severe cases.