What’s Atopic Dermatitis? (Hint: The Most Common Form of Eczema)

atopic dermatitis

Atopic dermatitis (also known as AD) is the most common type of eczema which often appears as a red, itchy rash normally on the cheeks, arms and legs. AD is very common in children, with most of them getting the disease during their first year of life.

People often wonder what the difference is between atopic dermatitis and eczema. Atopic dermatitis is a specific type of eczema that is often associated with a history of asthma or seasonal allergies. It is important to identify individuals with AD because they may experience a number of different sensitivities for the rest of their lives such as: dry skin that becomes easily irritated, occupational skin diseases like hand dermatitis, skin infections like staph and herpes, and eye problems like eyelid dermatitis.

Though AD can be very common in infants, it can appear in older children and adults as well, and it looks different in terms of signs and symptoms for each age group.


In infants, atopic dermatitis appears as a sudden rash that makes the skin dry, scaly, very itchy and it can sometimes have areas that drain fluid.  The scalp and face are the most common places the patches appear, especially on the cheeks. Babies with AD may have trouble sleeping and may often rub their skin on bedding or carpeting to relieve the itch. It’s important to note that scratching can lead to a skin infection, so proper treatment and good skin care should be put into practice as soon as possible to protect the skin from further damage.

In children, atopic dermatitis can begin between 2 years of age and puberty.  It often appears as scaly areas in the creases of the body such as the elbows, knees, neck, wrists, and ankles.  In time, the rash can look bumpy, lighten or darken in color, and become thickened.

About 90 percent of people with atopic dermatitis develop the condition before the age of five. Although it’s rare for atopic dermatitis to happen in adulthood, it can still happen. When an adult suffers from this form of eczema, it can appear in the creases of the elbows, knees, and neck, cover a large portion of the body, and can be especially severe around the eyes. About half of the people who have AD during their childhood will have milder symptoms into adulthood.

The exact cause of atopic dermatitis is unknown.  We do know that some children have a a greater risk of getting AD if they have family members with it the condition, or asthma or hay fever.  It is important to know, however, that atopic dermatitis is not contagious.

Treatment can only control, not cure, atopic dermatitis.  A treatment plan may include medicine, skin care, and lifestyle changes, which can help prevent flare-ups.  Medicine and other therapies can help control itching, reduce redness and swelling of the skin, clear an infection, and remove scaly bumps.

If you or a family member may have atopic dermatitis, it’s important to ultimately seek board-certified dermatologists, such as Vujevich Dermatology Associates, to diagnose the condition and develop a treatment plan tailored to the patient’s needs.  Many people experience eczema as a long-lasting disease and have seen many benefits of treatment.

Vujevich Dermatology Associates offers medical, surgical, and cosmetic dermatology from some of the most highly trained physicians and clinicians in the greater Pittsburgh area.  You can reach our team at 412-429-2570 or visit our contact page to see all of our locations. You can also follow us on Facebook to see what’s new in the world of dermatology.


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