Atopic dermatitis, often called eczema, is a common skin disease in children but can also affect adults. Children often develop eczema during the first year of life. Eczema can be very itchy causing infants to rub their skin against bedding or carpeting to relieve itch or causing children to be unable to fall asleep at night.
In infants, eczema often appears as areas of dry, scaly skin on the scalp, face (especially the cheeks), and other areas of the body. In children from 2 years of age until puberty, it is often characterized by a rash in the creases of the elbows or knees, but also often involves the neck, wrists, ankles, or in the crease of the buttocks or between the legs. With repeated scratching over time, affected areas of skin can become bumpy, become lighter or darker in color, become thickened and leathery, or develop knots and bumps on thickened skin. Adults with atopic dermatitis most often had it as a child, and it has continued into adulthood. About half of people with eczema in childhood have at least mild symptoms as an adult. In adults, this form of eczema can commonly affect the neck and face, the eyelids, and can be more widespread on the body affecting extensor surfaces of the elbows and knees, not just the creases.
Atopic dermatitis tends to run in families; people with eczema usually have family members with eczema, asthma, or hay fever. Sometimes people can have all three. Eczema is not contagious, but untreated broken open skin can allow for bacterial infection, which can make the eczema worse.
A treatment plan for eczema often includes medicine to control itching, topical prescription steroids or steroid alternatives to reduce inflammation, frequent use of bland moisturizers, and medicines or skin care treatments for reducing bacteria on the skin or treating skin infections.