People who suspect that they (or their children) have atopic dermatitis should carefully examine skin areas, keeping three questions in mind:
If the answer to any one of these questions is yes, the next step is to consult a medical specialist—allergist/immunologists or dermatologists know a lot about this disease. They can get an in-depth history and perform additional diagnostic tests, if necessary, including:
A detailed medical history is the most important and reliable tool for diagnosing atopic dermatitis. An allergist or dermatologist will ask a host of questions, focusing on when the rash appears, where it appears, and how often it does so. They also will ask about itching and other features that characterize the disease. Some questions will focus on possible triggers: foods or inhaled allergens, temperature changes, and other features of a person's home or work surroundings that may spark atopic flares.
It is very useful before walking into the doctor's office for patients or parents to write down what they remember about all of these questions. That's because many people have difficulty recalling the information on the spur of the moment in the doctor's office, and accurate answers are key to diagnosing the condition.
While the medical history is of paramount importance, additional tests can help support the diagnosis of atopic dermatitis or identify other conditions that may be causing symptoms instead. Some of these tests are:
If the medical history points to atopic dermatitis, then healthcare providers can move on to specific tests, known as "challenges," to determine if something in the patient's surroundings or in food routinely aggravates the ailment. Patients can then try to avoid these specific triggers.
If a food allergy is suspected, specialists can recommend a food challenge. Patients are "challenged" by being given increasing amounts of food thought to be an allergen and being carefully monitored and observed for any reaction. This is typically done at a specialized testing center such as National Jewish Health.
Last reviewed on 10/21/09
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