What is Atopic Dermatitis?
Atopic dermatitis is a persistent and chronic inflammatory condition. It wanes and relapses on a continual basis and manifests with symptoms of dry, flaky, red, itchy skin. It goes by many other names, including ‘infantile eczema’ and ‘flexural eczema’.
Unlike most dermatitis conditions, atopic dermatitis is not circumstantial and subject to various environmental stimuli. It may be made to outbreak, however, due to almost anything. The number of circumstantial stimuli that can spark an outbreak of atopic dermatitis are many, and the hallmark of the ailment. The comedy stereotype of the nerdy kid whose none-acne skin condition will flare up at the drop of a hat originates from atopic dermatitis.
Atopic dermatitis is frequently identified during infancy. Despite being a chronic condition, it is not serious on its own, and most simply deal with it the way they would a minor allergy, by simply avoiding the offending circumstances and influences that might provoke an outbreak.
Who gets Atopic Dermatitis?
Atopic dermatitis is a very common ailment. Some one in nine individuals suffer from atopic dermatitis to varying degrees of severity. Some will be in a constant state of inflammation, and others will have only very rare outbreaks in response to strong reactions.
Atopic dermatitis is almost always found in childhood. It is generally present from birth, with its discovery occurring upon its first breakout. This usually occurs during infancy, but it may rarely lurk undiscovered until adolescence, or even puberty, when raging and tumultuous hormones can drag it out of hiding. From here, it will usually persist.
Individuals of Caucasian descent are almost always more likely to suffer from atopic dermatitis. While the condition does not discriminate and is not contagious, Caucasian individuals have skin that is much more susceptible to such damage and difficulty. Thus, atopic dermatitis is more likely to present in Caucasians. This is not because atopic dermatitis is more likely to present in Caucasians in and of itself, but rather because Caucasians are more susceptible to the symptoms themselves.
There is a very clear family link in cases of atopic dermatitis. Parents with sensitive skin are far more likely to give birth to children with sensitive skin. It is entirely possible for a child to dodge this genetic bullet, but statistically speaking they will likely suffer the same trouble as their parents. If both parents suffer from atopic dermatitis, this becomes even more likely. Contributing factors are likely to be similar as well, much like certain allergies. Parents who have exceptional difficulty with sunlight or particular dietary issues will be more likely to have children who suffer from the same.
What causes Atopic Dermatitis?
The causes of atopic dermatitis are not clear. Generally, an increase in the various chemical receptors that can make skin more or less sensitive to various external stimuli are involved, but this is not universally true. Because it is poorly understood, there is no true ‘cure’. It is likely that there is not one simple natal cause, but rather a number of elements coinciding to make the skin more sensitive.
It should be elucidated that one cannot ‘catch’ atopic dermatitis. It may not present as early in all as it does in most, but it cannot be contracted later in life. It is entirely possible to develop various allergies later in life with similar results, this is a very different process. Nothing can ’cause’ atopic dermatitis after birth.
Stimuli that can cause outbreaks of atopic dermatitis are nearly endless, however. The stereotype of a nerdy individual with skin that will break out at the drop of the hat is both originated from atopic dermatitis and, further, not very far off from reality.
Heat is a major offender, especially coupled with sun exposure. The skin may be extremely sensitive to dehydration and will almost immediately dry, flake and peel, itching and swelling badly. The result may be very much like a sunburn, symptomatically, but the underlying cause and the actual true effect is different. The permanent damage that a sunburn may entail will not be a relevant factor.
Dietary influences frequently play a role. Any number of foods may be too oily for the skin to handle, and this may subsequently cause a breakout.
Hormonal influences, as is frequently true with dermatological conditions, are likely to play a role. Female hormone cycles can be a major offender in this, as can the various hormonal overhauls that an individual suffers during puberty. Any disturbance, from those overt changes that may occur during natural biological processes to those that may occur when one switches from one contraceptive to another to the very subtle changes that may occur due to the hormone content of various dairy and meat products may trigger an outbreak of atopic dermatitis.
What does Atopic Dermatitis cause?
Atopic dermatitis can cause a number of uncomfortable symptoms. Frequently, these do not extend beyond simple irritation and inflammation. Itching is very common. Flaking and redness of the skin is almost guaranteed. Beyond this, the symptoms of atopic dermatitis and the ultimate result of an atopic dermatitis outbreak is primarily dependent upon the cause of the outbreak.
More severe outbreaks of atopic dermatitis may result in minor scarring or scaling of the skin left after the outbreak subsides. Scarring will almost invariably heal after no more than a week or two. Scaling can be easily resolved with the application of proper lotions or moisturizers. These are almost purely cosmetic. Any true complications from either of these would have to be wildly atypical and likely result from the trigger condition.
Inflamed skin is frequently vulnerable to damage. Between the dryness and flaking that makes it vulnerable and the itching that inclines individuals to scratch at it, it is relatively easy to make inflamed skin become damaged skin. This damaged skin subsequently may become infected by bacteria, which can lead to something far more severe than the atopic dermatitis itself.
The most profound effects of atopic dermatitis tend to be mental. Individuals suffering from atopic dermatitis frequently have confidence issues due to the alterations to their appearance that they have no control over. Atopic dermatitis can manifest almost anywhere on the body (although not necessarily everywhere at once), which makes it a sharp contrast to acne, which frequently afflicts a limited area. In children, atopic dermatitis may have social implications, as children may ostracize others based on such things. The tendency of affected skin to dry and flake away only compounds this. Later in life, the social implications are generally diminished by the increased maturity level of the affected’s peers, but the psychological implications and discouragement may persist.
How serious is Atopic Dermatitis?
Atopic dermatitis is not serious from a medical standpoint. It has no mortality rate to speak of, and no notable co-morbid conditions that need be worried about should atopic dermatitis present in an individual. Most of the worst symptoms are cosmetic and do not last long. There are, however, circumstantial occurrences that can render atopic dermatitis a more serious condition to be reckoned with.
Atopic dermatitis is most serious when it results in infectious complications as a result of mechanical excoriation of inflamed skin. That is to say, if an individual picks at the dried, swollen and itchy skin of an atopic dermatitis outbreak, they may leave it vulnerable to bacterial infection. This infection will nearly always be more severe than the initial dermatitis damage if it should occur. However, this is relatively easy to prevent by keeping skin that has broken out insulated against damage with proper clothing and moisturization.
While atopic dermatitis is chronic and cannot truly be cured, its relatively benign nature means it is rarely more than a nuisance to be dealt with on a regular basis. Thus, it isn’t a true risk, but simply a factor to be considered when relevant.
What does Atopic Dermatitis treatment look like?
Atopic dermatitis treatment is almost purely symptomatic. Atopic dermatitis is chronic and prone to relapse. It cannot be treated in such a way as to ‘cure’ it. However, treatment options do exist to mollify or nullify atopic dermatitis symptoms as they present or to prevent their coming to the fore to begin with.
Moisturizer is a major boon with respect to the primary itchiness and dryness that can afflict anyone suffering from an atopic dermatitis outbreak. While proper hydration through water consumption is nearly always more effective than lotions or moisturizers with respect to keeping the skin healthy with enough water content, lotions and moisturizers can alleviate the itching and burning that may be experienced during an outbreak. The act of rubbing lotion into the skin can help clear away dead flakes of skin without letting them be scratched away, and the lotion itself can further insulate the skin against damage and irritation. The moisture content will also help to salve the irritation somewhat.
Outbreaks can also be prevented by keeping triggering factors at bay. Individuals who suffer from atopic dermatitis due to sunlight should wear sunblock or SPF-rated moisturizers and keep their skin covered or otherwise protected from UV radiation. Individuals who suffer from diet-triggered atopic dermatitis should avoid the foods that are likely to provoke an outbreak. Individuals who suffer from an allergic reaction should compensate accordingly, avoiding the plants or animals that provoke their reaction to the best of their ability and washing their skin thoroughly after any accidental, unavoidable contact.
It is recommended that afflicted individuals keep a journal of triggered outbreaks to help determine what affects them most strongly. This can help to weed out various incidental factors from circumstantial factors and let the afflicted avoid atopic dermatitis-triggering conditions in the future.
Many, of course, will not feel any need to pursue such measures. Some individuals suffering from atopic dermatitis have cases so mild that they simply don’t care about the minor symptoms that may occur. This is especially true for individuals who suffer from atopic dermatitis that primarily triggers due to sunlight; any outbreaks will simply be written off as sunburn, and extended sun exposure will be avoided just as anyone with or without atopic dermatitis. Many others who technically suffer from atopic dermatitis will simply not be aware of their symptoms. Thus, these treatment measures will vary widely.
In any case, unless very severe complications arise from a related bacterial infection (which is in and of itself fairly rare), it is unlikely that any serious medical intervention will be required. Unless one’s case of atopic dermatitis is severe enough to interfere with day-to-day life (most common in young children), medical treatment will likely not need to be considered. Atopic dermatitis is, for this, almost completely harmless and benign, and a nuisance at worst.
How do I know if I have Atopic Dermatitis?
Atopic dermatitis is identified by its persistent and consistent nature. Much like an allergy, one will not simply react to a situation once and not again. An allergy can be noted when one repeatedly has an issue with a substance or circumstance and must adjust their behavior to avoid it. Atopic dermatitis is similar; having a rash once, due to poison ivy, sunburn, sleeping all night under an electric blanket or some other single factor does not denote atopic dermatitis. Rash-sensitive skin from childhood that may break out under nearly any circumstance, be it sun exposure, dietary intake or even cloth rubbing uncomfortably.
Atopic dermatitis is almost always identified in infancy, when an individual is most vulnerable. It is rare for one to make it to adolescence without their condition having revealed itself, but feasible, especially with respect to chemical sensitivities such as caffeine, or stress triggers that may not come into play until a child has begun working under higher pressure in school.
If a persistent and consistent rashing condition seems to be troubling you, you may be suffering from atopic dermatitis. Self-diagnosis is not a reliable method or replacement for a medical professional’s input, however. While there is no effective ‘cure’, there are a number of things that can be done to prevent outbreaks and alleviate outbreaks that do occur. It is thus a good idea to speak to a medical professional for consultation and advice, the sooner the better.