Atopic Dermatitis 101

The Starting Point for Learning More About Atopic Dermatitis

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Atopic dermatitis is the most common type of eczema, and it is caused by an abnormal response to the body's immune system. The term "atopic" or "atopy" is used to describe a group of diseases that commonly occur together and run in families. These diseases are asthma, hay fever (allergic rhinitis), and atopic dermatitis.

Atopic Dermatitis Facts

  • More than 15 million people in the United States have symptoms of atopic dermatitis
  • Atopic dermatitis occurs in 5 to 25 per 1000 people
  • Up to 15% of population may suffer from atopic dermatitis during childhood
  • Males and females are affected equally
  • Atopic dermatitis accounts for 10% to 20% of referrals to dermatologists
  • Atopic dermatitis starts early in life - 9 out of 10 people with it develop symptoms before age 5
  • People who live in urban areas or low-humidity climates have a higher risk of atopic dermatitis


The cause of atopic dermatitis is hotly debated. Several factors play a role in the disease such as "leaky skin," abnormalities in several specific cells in the immune system, allergies, and higher sensitivity to chemicals and clothing. But so far the cause has not been narrowed to one particular factor.

More about the cause of atopic dermatitis.


The appearance of atopic dermatitis changes as a person gets older. The rash in an infant looks different than the rash in an adult.

Some children seem to "grow out" of atopic dermatitis, but in reality, they always have sensitive skin that is drier than normal skin.

More about the appearance of atopic dermatitis.


Atopic dermatitis is diagnosed based several clinical factors that are divided into major and minor features.

Skin-prick allergy tests are not used routinely to make the diagnosis because they are not as accurate in people with atopic dermatitis.

More about how atopic dermatitis is diagnosed.


Atopic dermatitis is not cured but it can be managed. Fortunately, rashes can be prevented in many ways, and many medications can help.

More about atopic dermatitis treatments.


Boguniewicz, Mark. "Atopic Dermatitis: Beyond the Itch that Rashes." Immunology and Allergy Clinics of North America 25(2005): 333-51.

Coderch L, et al. "Efficacy of stratum corneum lipid supplementation on human skin." Contact Dermatitis. 3(2002):139-46.

Halvarsson, K, and M. Loden. "Increasing quality of life by improving the quality of skin in patients with atopic dermatitis." International Journal of Cosmetic Science 29(2007): 69-83.

Hanifin, Jon, et al. "Guidelines of Care for Atopic Dermatitis." Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology 50(2004): 391-404.

Simpson, Eric, and Jon Hanifin. "Atopic Dermatitis." The Medical Clinics of North America 90(2006): 149-167.

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