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FAQs on Atopic dermatitis/eczema

Is there any difference between atopic dermatitis and atopic eczema?
No, they both mean the same. Other common names include infantile eczema or childhood eczema.

How common is atopic dermatitis?
Atopic dermatitis is common and affects 3 - 10% of children. In the UK, about 20% of children under the age of 7 are affected. The incidence also seems to be increasing in urban societies and it is not known whether this is due to an increase in environmental pollution. About 1% of adults suffer from atopic dermatitis.

What causes atopic dermatitis?
Atopic dermatitis is inherited. However, the inheritance is not specific which means the person inherits a general tendency to develop atopy rather than atopic dermatitis specifically. The term, atopy refers to atopic dermatitis, asthma and allergic rhinitis. This means that a child may inherit atopic dermatitis from a parent with any one of the three atopic disorders and not just atopic dermatitis. It also means that the child may develop any one or more of the atopic disorders. This is why people with atopic dermatitis often also suffer from asthma and/or allergic rhinitis. About 70% of people with atopic dermatitis have a personal or family history of atopy.

Does everyone who inherit the atopic tendency always develop the disorder?
Not always because other factors (some unknown) - immunological, psychological and environmental interplay to cause the disorder to manifest. However, the tendency is always there so there is always that possibility.

When does atopic dermatitis usually appear?
Most cases appear during childhood which is why atopic dermatitis is also called infantile and childhood eczema. About 60% of people with atopic dermatitis develop it during the first year and 30% during the second. However it rarely occurs before the age of 2 months.

Will I ever grow out of atopic dermatitis?
Atopic dermatitis gets better with age and 50% can be considered practically cured by the time they reach puberty. The remainder also improve with the passage of time. Very occasionally, atopic dermatitis persists into middle age.

What makes atopic dermatitis worse?
  • Stress.
  • Heat.
  • Infection.
  • Dust and the house dust mite.
  • Physical irritants such as woollen and rough textured fabrics.
  • Chemical irritants including soaps and detergents.
  • Dryness of the skin caused by the weather or soaps.

Is atopic dermatitis contagious?
Atopic dermatitis is not contagious unless there is secondary infection. When this happens there is pus and crusting and it is only during such times that the infection (not atopic dermatitis) can be spread.

Does diet play an important role in atopic dermatitis?
Food allergy may play a role in young children, especially those under the age of 1 year. It is less important in adults and children over the age of 4 years. The common culprits include dairy products, beef, eggs, chicken, food additives, fish, wheat and nuts. Many of these are nutritious and should only be excluded on the instruction of the doctor.

Can I reduce the risk of my child developing atopic dermatitis?
It is still not very clear whether breast feeding during the first 6 months of life can reduce the risk of a genetically susceptible child developing atopic dermatitis later on in life. Breast feeding has other benefits as well and can certainly be attempted. However, breast feeding must be complete and supplements cannot be used.

What is the treatment of atopic dermatitis?
The treatment consists of oral antihistamines (anti-itch medicines) and topical steroids as well as eliminating or reducing the influence of the aggravating factors above.

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