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Atopic dermatitis is the most common type of eczema, a term used to describe an itchy rash. “Atopic” means a tendency to develop allergy conditions. An allergy occurs when someone reacts to things like mold and pollen that don’t affect most people. When people come into contact with something they are allergic to (called an allergen), they may have symptoms, such as an itchy rash. This is called an allergic reaction.


The most common symptoms are a red, itchy rash and dry and easy to irritate skin. Scratching or rubbing can make the itching and rash worse and even cause the skin to blister and ooze a clear or light yellow fluid. When this happens, the rash can become infected.


Atopic dermatitis is most common in infants, but can also develop in children and adults. People are more likely to develop atopic dermatitis if:

  • They have asthma, hay fever, or food allergies

  • They have a parent who had or has asthma, hay fever, food allergies, or atopic dermatitis

Did you know…You can’t catch atopic dermatitis from someone who has it?


  1. First, your allergist will look at your rash, ask about your symptoms, and ask about you and your parent’s history of asthma and allergies.

  2. Then your allergist will try to find out the cause of the rash by asking about your contact with things that may irritate your skin, such as soaps, detergents, skin care products, and wool clothing.

  3. If your allergist thinks an allergy may have caused your dermatitis, she may do allergy skin-testing to find out what you may be allergic to.

Skin Tests

  • Prick or scratch test. This test shows whether someone is allergic to such things as grass, molds, dust mites, pets, or certain foods. In this test, a tiny drop of a possible allergen is pricked or scratched into the skin.

  • Intradermal test. This test shows whether someone is allergic to things such as insect stings and penicillin. A small amount of the possible allergen is injected under the skin through a thin needle.

If you’re sensitive to an allergen, a small red bump appears on the skin where that allergen was placed. This area may itch. The larger the bump, the more sensitive you may be to the allergen.


Atopic dermatitis cannot be cured but it can be controlled by staying away from things that make it worse, treating the symptoms with medicine, and taking good care of your skin. Take these steps:

  • If you know what you are allergic to, stay away from those allergens.

  • Take medicine your allergist prescribes for your atopic dermatitis.

  • Your allergist will likely prescribe a cortisone cream to treat the rash and relieve itching. If this doesn’t work, your doctor may prescribe an antihistamine or corticosteroid pills. Corticosteroids used to treat atopic dermatitis are not the same steroids that athletes use to build up muscle. And they don’t have the same risks as the steroids athletes use.

  • Other medicines he or she may prescribe are immunomodulators that are applied to the skin as ointments or creams.

  • Care for your skin.

  • Don’t scratch or rub the itchy areas. This can cause an infection or scarring. If your child has atopic dermatitis, keep his or her fingernails short.

  • Use a moisturizer every day.

  • Look for moisturizers that are more greasy than creamy. Creams tend to have ingredients that can irritate the skin. Ask your allergist to recommend a moisturizer.

  • When you can, soak in a warm bath, and then gently pat your skin dry and put a moisturizer on your skin. This helps seal in the moisture.

  • Use a mild unscented soap for “sensitive skin.”

Avoid things that can irritate your skin, such as:

  • Scratchy fabrics like wool and polyester. Wear loose-fitting clothing made of soft fabrics like cotton and cotton-blend materials.

  • New clothing, bedding, and towels. Wash new fabrics before you use them.

  • Extreme hot and cold temperatures. The cold can dry your skin, and the hot can make you sweat, which can irritate your skin. DERATITIS (ECZEMA)

  • Scented soaps. Use scent-free or perfume-free soaps for your skin, dishes, and laundry. Avoid fabric softeners, including dryer sheets.

  • Cleaning products. Wear heavy-duty vinyl gloves with cotton liners when you are working with cleaning products. If you’re allergic to latex, avoid gloves that are labeled “latex” or “natural rubber.”

  • Learn how to manage stress in your life.

  • Atopic dermatitis can get worse when you’re stressed. Relaxation exercises can help.


Your allergist can treat your atopic dermatitis.


Most health insurance plans cover eczema treatment and treatment for allergies. Ask your insurance carrier:

  • Do I need a referral from my doctor to see an allergist?

  • Does my insurance cover patient education or special services for my allergies?

  • Does my insurance cover a pre-existing problem? This usually means any health problem that you had before you joined your current health plan.

  • What allergy testing and medicines does my plan cover?

Credit: American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology

Atopic Dermatitis: FAQ
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