Atopic Dermatitis or Eczema

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It's important to remember that while atopic dermatitis is a difficult disease, it is also a manageable one. With proper care, patients can lead fulfilling lives and participate fully in work and family activities. To do this, it helps to have an action plan. This section has details on developing such a plan, including:

  • Controlling scratching
  • Tips on clothing and laundry
  • Tips on temperature
  • Recognizing signs of infection
  • When to consult a health care provider
  • Controlling scratching

    Scratching is a natural response to the itching of the disease, but it only inflames the rash, making it itch even more. Further, scratching can break the skin's surface, making it prone to infections.

    To control scratching:

    • Wear light cotton gloves or even socks on the hands, particularly at night. Nighttime is when people unconsciously scratch themselves.
    • Apply moisturizer when you feel itchy, instead of scratching or rubbing.
    • Keep fingernails trimmed short and cut smoothly to prevent damage should you scratch.
    • Keep hands busy.
    • Patients can be taught to use biofeedback or relaxation techniques.
    • Tips on clothing and laundry

      Be careful about the clothes you wear and how you wash them. Care in these areas can help patients avoid irritants that trigger atopic dermatitis flares.

      • Wash new clothes before wearing them. Formaldehyde and other irritating chemicals often are present in new clothing.
      • Wear open-weave, loose-fitting clothing that lets air circulate freely over the skin.
      • Wear cotton or cotton-blend clothing, which may be less irritating than other fabrics. If wool irritates your skin, avoid it.
      • Remove labels if they bother you. If seams cause itching, try wearing clothes inside out while at home.
      • Use fragrance-free, dye-free, liquid detergents. Use a second rinse cycle to remove any residual detergent.
      • Tips on temperature

        Extremes of temperature and humidity can be a problem for people with this condition. Sweating caused by overheating and high humidity can irritate the skin. Low humidity causes water to be lost from the skin. This can lead to dryness and skin irritation. Actions you can take:

        • Try to keep your surroundings at a comfortable temperature and humidity.
        • Wear loose-fitting, open-weave clothing during hot weather and while exercising.
        • If you swim for exercise, be sure you shower or bathe when you get out of the pool. Use a mild cleanser to remove chemicals, and then apply a moisturizer.
        • Recognizing signs of infection

          Skin infections often are a problem for people with atopic dermatitis because the condition has damaged their skin barrier. Infections can become quite serious if they are not treated promptly, so it is important to recognize the signs:

          • Increased redness
          • Pus-filled bumps or oozing fluid
          • Honey-colored crusts or scabs
          • Cold sores or fever blisters
          • If you see any of these signs, contact a healthcare provider immediately. He or she can provide appropriate medication or other treatment.

            When to consult a healthcare provider

            Though the goal of managing atopic dermatitis is self-care, you should consult your healthcare provider if:

            • You spot signs of infection
            • The severity of the rash or itching changes markedly
            • Atopic dermatitis is categorized as mild, moderate, or severe. Patients usually can place themselves in one of these categories depending on how they feel. A change from one of these categories to another is reason to consult a healthcare provider. He or she can suggest changes in medications or in methods, such as "soak and seal," for bringing symptoms under control.

              Online Resources

              More information on atopic dermatitis (eczema) is available at these websites in the U.S.News & World Report library:

              National Eczema Association for Science and Education

              This site provides information on living with eczema, patient education pamphlets, and support group contact numbers. National Jewish Health

              This site provides educational information about what atopic dermatitis is, how it’s treated, and how patients and families can cope with the disease. It also offers printed educational materials and telephone access to nurses who answer questions and provide additional resources.


              The American Academy of Dermatology developed this website to provide patients with current information on the management and treatment of skin diseases. It describes medications used to treat eczema and offers a database of dermatologists. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases: Atopic Dermatitis

              This is the primary National Institutes of Health organization for research on eczema and atopic dermatitis. Medline Plus: Eczema (National Institutes of Health/National Library of Medicine)

              This site provides a broad range of eczema links, including the latest news, information on diagnosis, treatment, clinical trials, directories, glossaries, and statistics. Eczema Resource

              Produced in collaboration with experts, the Eczema Resource provides a forum for discussion about treatments for eczema, side effects of treatments, and ideas for tailoring treatments for infants and adults with mild to severe eczema. The site includes videos, transcripts, and articles that cover traditional and new treatments. Last reviewed on 10/21/09

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