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What Atopic Dermatitis Looks Like

Atopic Dermatitis Rash

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Updated June 13, 2014

Atopic dermatitis is the most common form of eczema. It affects infants and young children, but it can continue later into life. An important aspect of atopic dermatitis is its recurrent, waxing and waning course. Children with atopic dermatitis have symptoms that come and go. As many children get older, the frequency and severity of the symptoms lessen until the condition seems to be gone. However, the skin often stays dry and is easily irritated. Environmental factors such as contact with harsh soaps or other chemicals can bring the symptoms back at any time, even as an adult.

Atopic Dermatitis Skin Changes

In normal skin, the outer layer of the epidermis, the stratum corneum, contains dry, dead, flattened skin cells that form a barrier protecting the other layers from irritants and keeping them moist. People with atopic dermatitis lose too much moisture from the outer layer causing the skin to dry and crack, thus decreasing the skin's protective ability, also known as the skin's barrier function. A person with atopic dermatitis is more susceptible to recurring infections like bacterial infections, warts, herpes simplex, and molluscum contagiousum.

Symptoms in Infants

The type of rash and its location in atopic dermatitis is different for different age groups. In infants, the rash is most often seen on the trunk, face, and extensor surfaces. The rash consists of papules and vesicles, or blisters, that ooze and then crust over.

Symptoms in Young Children

In children, the rash is seen on extensor surfaces, but also in the bend of the arm and behind the knees. The skin is dry and bumpy with scaly patches.

Symptoms in Older Children and Adults

In older children, adolescents, and adults the rash is seen on the face, neck, flexor surfaces, hands, and feet, but the skin is dry and thick.

Atopic Dermatitis Pictures

Sources:

Bolognia, Jean, et al., eds. "Atopic Dermatitis." Dermatology. New York: Mosby, 2003: 200-12.

Habif, Thomas. "Atopic Dermatitis." Clinical Dermatology, 4th Edition. Ed. Thomas Habif, MD. New York: Mosby, 2004. 122-3.

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

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