Medical Dermatology - Atopic Dermatitis / Eczema

Atopic dermatitis is a very common, and many times chronic skin disease that affects many people. It is also called eczema, dermatitis, or atopy. Most commonly, it may be thought of as a type of skin allergy or sensitivity. The atopic dermatitis triad includes asthma, allergies (hay fever), and eczema. There is a known hereditary component of the disease, and it is seen more in some families. The hallmarks of the disease include skin rashes and itching.

The word “dermatitis” means inflammation of the skin. “Atopic” refers to diseases that are hereditary, tend to run in families, and often occur together. In atopic dermatitis, the skin becomes extremely itchy and inflamed, causing redness, swelling, cracking, weeping, crusting, and scaling. Dry skin is a very common complaint and an underlying cause of some of the typical rash symptoms.

Atopic Dermatitis and Eczema

Eczema is used as a general term for many types of skin inflammation (dermatitis) and allergic-type skin rashes. There are different types of eczema, like allergic, contact, irritant, and nummular eczema. Several other forms have very similar symptoms.

The diverse types of eczema are listed and briefly described below. Atopic dermatitis is typically a more specific set of three associated conditions occurring in the same person including eczema, allergies, and asthma. Not every component has to be present at the same time, but usually these patients are prone to all of these three related conditions.

Types of Eczema:

  • Contact eczema

  • Allergic contact eczema

  • Seborrheic eczema

  • Nummular eczema

  • Neurodermatitis

  • Stasis dermatitis

Is atopic dermatitis contagious?

No. Atopic dermatitis itself is definitely not contagious and it cannot be passed from one person to another through skin contact. There is generally no cause for concern in being around someone with even an active case of atopic dermatitis, unless they have active skin infections.

Diagnosing Atopic Dermatitis / Eczema:

Atopic dermatitis is generally easily diagnosed based on a physical exam and visual inspection of the skin by a dermatologist. Additionally, the history given by the patient and contributory family history help to support the diagnosis. Since itching tends to be the main common symptom of the disease for many patients, it is not possible to say all itching is atopic dermatitis. Itching may be seen in many other medical conditions that have nothing to do with eczema.