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What Causes Atopic Dermatitis in Children?

By Kathy Dowling
Updated Jan 20, 2024
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Atopic dermatitis, also known as eczema, is a non-contagious chronic skin disorder usually occurring in infancy and childhood and potentially continuing throughout adulthood. It commonly occurs when there is a family or personal history of allergies, such as asthma and hay fever, from which an individual has an inherent predisposition. Atopic dermatitis in children is characterized by dry, red, itchy skin and, depending on the severity, often results in soreness and intense discomfort. Other symptoms include scaling, thickening, and vesiculation, or tiny blisters, just beneath the surface of the skin. Another concern with atopic dermatitis in children is that it commonly leads to bacterial infections, which can further escalate the problem.

Known as an inflammatory disease, atopic dermatits can affect many areas of the body, and includes symptoms such as itching and dryness. It is a hereditary disorder whereby an individual has a predisposition to sensitive skin that is aggravated by environmental factors. Such irritants may include soap, detergents, and clothes that have a rough texture, such as wool. Other irritants may include allergies to pollen, certain foods, and animal dander. Changes in temperature and climate as well as emotional stress and frustration are also known to aggravate the problem.

Children with atopic dermatitis develop skin that is prone to splitting and chafing. This is because they have a tendency to lose moisture in the skin more quickly than the average person. Rather than being supple, the skin becomes rough and sensitive, causing the it to become itchy and the affected individual to scratch. Scratching only further aggravates the condition resulting in an "itch-scratch-itch" cycle. Over many years of scratching, the skin becomes thickened, or lichenified.

The disease progresses through several stages, and is usually discovered in early infancy through detailed observation of the appearance of redness and weeping, resulting in crusted lesions and intense itching. At one year-old, atopic dermatitis in children takes the form of scaly, oval lesions usually appearing on the arms, face, torso, and legs. Atopic dermatitis in children is very unpredictable; however, it usually eases by the age of 3 or 4. Despite this, it may continue to flare up or break out throughout the course of life. Generally, atopic dermatitis in children improves between the ages of 10 to 14 years.

Treatment of atopic dermatitis in children includes skin care such as consistent moisturizing and avoiding exposure to environmental triggers. It is also recommended to avoid scratching and eliminating things that may cause emotional stress. In more severe cases, a dermatologist my prescribe corticosteroid creams or antibiotics to treat associated infections.

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