Atopic dermatitis is long lasting (chronic) and tends to flare periodically and then subside. Atopic dermatitis (eczema) is a condition that makes the skin red and itchy. It is common in children but can occur at any age. It may be accompanied by asthma or hay fever.

Treatments and self-care measures can relieve itching and prevent new outbreaks. For example, it helps if you avoid harsh soaps and other irritants, apply medicated creams or ointments, and moisturize the skin.


Atopic dermatitis (eczema) symptoms vary widely from person to person. They include:

  • Small, raised bumps, which may leak fluid and crust over when scratched,
  • Itching, which may be severe, especially at night,
  • Red to brownish-gray patches, especially on the hands, feet, ankles, wrists, neck, upper chest, eyelids, inside the bend of the elbows and knees, and, in infants, the face and scalp,
  • Thickened, cracked, dry, scaly skin,
  • Raw, sensitive, swollen skin from scratching.

Atopic dermatitis most often begins before age 5 and may persist into adolescence and adulthood. Most people with atopic dermatitis also have Staphylococcus aureus bacteria on their skin. The staph bacteria multiply rapidly when the skin barrier is broken and fluid is present on the skin. This in turn may worsen symptoms, particularly in young children.

Atopic dermatitis is also related to allergies.


The exact cause of atopic dermatitis (eczema) is unknown. Healthy skin helps retain moisture and protect from bacteria, irritants and allergens. Eczema is likely related to a mix of factors:

  • Dry, irritable skin, which reduces the skin's ability to be an effective barrier,
  • A gene variation that affects the skin's barrier function,
  • Immune system dysfunction,
  • Bacteria, such as Staphylococcus aureus, on the skin that creates a film that blocks sweat glands,
  • Environmental conditions.

Risk factors

Factors that put people at increased risk of developing the condition include:

  • A personal or family history of eczema, allergies, hay fever or asthma,
  • Being a health care worker, which is linked to hand dermatitis,
  • Living in urban area,
  • Being African-American,
  • Having parents with a high level of education,
  • Attending child care,
  • Having attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).


Complications of atopic dermatitis (eczema) include:

  • Asthma and hayfever,
  • Chronic itchy, scaly skin,
  • Skin infections,
  • Eye problems,
  • Irritant hand dermatitis,
  • Allergic contact dermatitis,
  • Sleep problems,
  • Behavioral problems.


The following tips may help prevent bouts of dermatitis and minimize the drying effects of bathing:

  • Try to identify and avoid triggers that worsen the inflammation,
  • Take shorter baths or showers,
  • Use only gentle soaps,
  • Dry carefully,  

Moisturize the skin at least twice a day.