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Atopic Dermatitis - Types, Causes, and Treatment

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Atopic dermatitis is the most common form of dermatitis. Read the article to know more about this condition and the other types of dermatitis.

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Nidhin Varghese

Published At September 27, 2022
Reviewed AtApril 12, 2024

What Is Atopic Dermatitis?

Dermatitis is a term for a group of conditions that cause skin inflammation. There are different types of dermatitis, but atopic dermatitis is the most common of all. All forms of dermatitis are harmless and are not contagious. Atopic dermatitis often called atopic eczema is a disorder characterized by skin inflammation. Atopic dermatitis can happen at any age but it is more common in children. It is more likely to develop in people with asthma or hay fever and a family history of eczema, asthma, or hay fever. Hallmark features of atopic dermatitis include dry, itchy skin and red rashes that come and go.

What Causes Atopic Dermatitis?

Atopic dermatitis mainly happens when the skin’s natural barrier against irritants and allergens gets weakened. Various combinations of factors contribute to the development of atopic dermatitis, including:

  • Genetics.

  • Dry skin.

  • Rough clothing.

  • Household chemicals.

  • An immune system problem.

  • Foods, dust, mites, and other allergens.

What Are the Symptoms of Atopic Dermatitis?

Most often, atopic dermatitis affects the skin on the face, hands, feet, inner elbows, and back of the knees. The signs and symptoms may vary from person to person and include:

  • Dry skin.

  • Severe itching, especially at night.

  • Red to brownish-gray patches.

  • Small, raised fluid-filled bumps.

  • Thickened and scaly skin.

  • Sensitive and swollen skin from scratching.

How Is Atopic Dermatitis Diagnosed?

No laboratory test is usually needed to identify atopic dermatitis. The doctor diagnoses by thoroughly examining the skin and reviewing the medical history. In suspected cases, the doctor may perform the following tests:

  • An allergy skin test.

  • Blood tests to rule out the causes of the rash that may be unrelated to dermatitis.

  • A skin biopsy to differentiate one type of dermatitis from another.

How Is Atopic Dermatitis Treated?

The doctor may recommend the following treatments:

  • Corticosteroid cream or ointment to control itching and help repair the skin.

  • Creams containing Tacrolimus and Pimecrolimus control the skin reaction.

  • Antibiotic cream if the skin has a bacterial infection, an open sore, or cracks.

  • Over-the-counter antihistamines for severe itching.

  • Gentle soaps and other products free of perfumes, dyes, and alcohol.

  • Topical immunomodulators for those who do not respond to other treatments.

  • Wet dressings involve applying the affected area with topical corticosteroids and wrapping it with wet bandages.

  • Phototherapy is used as an alternative for people who do not get better with topical medications. Phototherapy involves exposing the skin to ultraviolet light, usually ultraviolet B, from special lamps.

  • Consult a psychiatrist or therapist for counseling if experiencing poor mental or emotional health symptoms or are embarrassed or frustrated by their skin condition.

What Are the Other Types of Dermatitis?

Contact Dermatitis:

  • Contact dermatitis is an allergic reaction characterized by a painful or itchy skin rash.

  • People get contact dermatitis from contact with an allergen or irritants like poison ivy or a chemical.

  • Contact dermatitis is of two types:

    • Irritant contact dermatitis.

    • Allergic contact dermatitis.

  • Treatments for contact dermatitis include skin moisturizers, steroid medications, antibiotics, and wearing protective clothes wherever possible such as gloves, long-sleeves, and trousers.

Dyshidrotic Dermatitis:

  • This type of dermatitis presents with painful, itchy blisters on the edges of the fingers, palms, toes, and the soles of the feet.

  • The cause of dyshidrotic dermatitis is still unknown.

  • Treatments include wet compresses, steroid drugs, and Psoralen combined with ultraviolet A therapy.

Nummular Dermatitis:

  • Nummular dermatitis presents with circular, itchy spots on the skin. The condition more often affects men than women.

  • The cause of nummular dermatitis is still not known. But certain factors may raise the chance of an outbreak, including cold, dry air, exposure to chemicals such as formaldehyde, and exposure to metals, including nickel.

  • Nummular dermatitis causes characteristic coin-shaped red marks. The marks usually appear on the legs, backs of the hands, forearms, lower back, and hips.

  • Treatments include a lukewarm bath or shower, moisturizers, steroid ointments, and antibiotics if an infection develops.


  • This type of dermatitis is caused by severe itching that irritates the skin's nerve endings.

  • The condition commonly affects the back, back of the neck, scalp, genitals, wrists, and ankles.

  • Sometimes irritated skin can grow thick and wrinkled, and infections may also develop in those areas.

  • Treatments include avoiding scratching and taking steroid medicines.

Seborrheic Dermatitis:

  • Seborrheic dermatitis, often called dandruff, appears red, dry, flaky, itchy skin on the scalp and other body parts.

  • The condition may occur due to an inflammatory reaction to excess Malassezia yeast, an organism that lives on the skin's surface.

  • It commonly affects the scalp, eyebrows, sides of the nose, the area behind the ears, groin, and center of the chest.

  • Treatments vary between infants and people and include shampoo containing salicylic acid, selenium sulfide, zinc pyrithione, coal tar, antifungal treatments, and steroid lotions.

Stasis Dermatitis:

  • Stasis dermatitis, also known as gravitational dermatitis, venous eczema, and venous stasis dermatitis, happens when the veins in the lower legs do not properly return blood to their heart.

  • Stasis dermatitis may be related to underlying medical conditions like heart or kidney disease.

  • Stasis dermatitis causes weeping and crusting of the skin. Over time, brown stains may also develop on the skin.

  • Treatments include steroid creams or ointments, creams or lotions that lubricate the skin, moist compresses, antibiotics to treat infections, and elevating the legs.

Diaper Dermatitis:

  • Diaper dermatitis occurs when a rash appears on any part of a baby’s skin covered by a diaper.

  • Diaper rash happens due to wet or infrequently changed diapers, skin sensitivity, and chafing.

  • The condition is marked by a patchwork of bright red skin on the diaper region, including skin buttocks, thighs, and genitals.

How Is Dermatitis Prevented?

The following tips may help prevent all forms of dermatitis:

  • Moisturize the skin at least twice daily using creams, ointments, and lotions.

  • Identify and avoid triggers that worsen the condition, including sweat, stress, obesity, soaps, detergents, dust, and pollen.

  • Take shorter baths or showers of 10 minutes to 15 minutes. Use lukewarm water instead of hot water.

  • Use only gentle soaps. Deodorant and antibacterial soaps can remove the natural oils and dry the skin.

  • Dry the skin carefully. After bathing, dry the skin with a soft towel and apply cream or lotion to the damp skin.

  • Wear gloves and protective clothing while handling chemicals.

  • Wear loose-fitting clothes made from cotton.


Having dermatitis is common, but it may make people feel self-conscious in public. It can also affect self-esteem and quality of life. Almost all forms of dermatitis are treatable. Various treatment options are available to manage the symptoms. See a healthcare provider as soon as the symptoms of dermatitis start appearing. Several preventive measures can help reduce the risk of dermatitis.

Frequently Asked Questions


Is It Possible to Cure Atopic Dermatitis?

The condition cannot be cured because there is no cure for atopic dermatitis. The condition can be managed by giving proper care. Corticosteroid creams, antihistamines, and other related medications can be given to treat atopic dermatitis. This condition may get better as children grow. Applying moisturizing cream can help get rid of dryness in the skin.


Mention the Main Cause of Dermatitis.

Dermatitis is a condition in which the skin is rife with inflammation. This condition's cause may include something irritating the skin or triggering an allergic reaction. Things that may irritate include perfume, poison ivy, lotion, jewelry that contains nickel, etc. Dry skin, infection due to viruses or bacteria, stress, genes, and any problem related to the immune system may be the reasons that cause dermatitis.


Which Ointment Is Best for Atopic Dermatitis?

The best ointment for atopic dermatitis is creams or ointments that contain calcineurin inhibitors. These work well for people over the age of 2 years. Hydrocortisone cream may relieve symptoms temporarily. Calamine lotion can also be used.


Which Foods May Help Reduce Atopic Dermatitis?

Foods that help fight inflammation do help with atopic dermatitis. These include vegetables and fruits that contain flavonoids, like apples, broccoli, cherries, blueberries, spinach, and kale. Foods containing antioxidants may help reduce the symptoms of atopic dermatitis. Gluten-free foods may help in certain conditions. Grains, nuts, legumes, fish, and good fats like olive oil, omega-3 fatty acids, probiotics, and quercetin-containing foods help reduce or fight inflammation.


Can Dermatitis Go Away Naturally?

No, dermatitis does not have a cure. However, it can be controlled by avoiding the irritants and triggers that lead to dermatitis. Their symptoms can be managed by using natural gels and oils, therapeutic baths, and making changes in the diet.


To What Extent Is Atopic Dermatitis Serious?

Atopic dermatitis is a chronic condition in which inflammation, redness, and skin irritation may be present. It may appear in childhood or at any age. This condition may increase as the lesion may flare up. Many of the affected individuals may show colonization of bacteria like Staphylococcus aureus. These bacteria tend to cause an infection that worsens the dermatitis.

Individuals with atopic dermatitis may develop food allergies, hay fever, and asthma.


Which Are the Foods That Cause Atopic Dermatitis?

Foods that may cause atopic dermatitis include milk and other dairy products, eggs, soy, wheat, peanuts or tree nuts, fish or shellfish, rice, and sesame seeds or oil. Foods that contain more nickel and cobalt may cause dyshydrotic eczema.


Can Eczema Be Considered as Fungal Infection?

No, eczema is not a fungal infection. These two conditions look very similar in terms of signs and symptoms. These two conditions have different causes and treatments. Eczema may be caused by infections caused by various microbes, like viruses, bacteria, and fungi. A common microbe involved in causing infected eczema and fungal infections is Staphylococcus aureus.


Can Dermatitis Spread?

It may spread to other parts of the body. This, again, depends on the cause of dermatitis. Generally, contact dermatitis is the type that spreads to other parts of the body. This usually occurs when the person touches other body parts with the allergen.


How to Prevent Skin Dermatitis?

The skin itself acts as a defense in the case of skin dermatitis. Hence, the skin should be kept moist by using moisturizers and sunscreens, which help avoid skin dryness. Using loose-fitting cotton cloths helps draw away sweat.


Does Hair Loss Occur in Dermatitis?

Yes, dermatitis can cause hair loss. Hair loss can occur due to seborrheic type of dermatitis. There may be increased sebum production in the scalp, which may cause irritation and inflammation. This condition causes itchiness. Due to itchiness, the individual may scratch the scalp, which leads to damage to hair follicles. Scratching obstructs the growth of hair and results in hair loss.


What Are the Fruits to Avoid in Atopic Dermatitis?

Citrus fruits like oranges, grapefruits, and lemons may cause atopic dermatitis. These fruits may contain chemicals that increase the risk of getting atopic dermatitis. Hence, these citrus fruits and other fruits that contain citrus must be avoided in the case of atopic dermatitis.


Which Vitamin Deficiency Causes Atopic Dermatitis?

Atopic dermatitis may be caused by a deficiency of vitamin D. Vitamin deficiency is also linked to psoriasis. Many studies have found that vitamin D helps treat psoriasis and atopic dermatitis. Some of the biological pathways are responsible for vitamin D's beneficial effect in treating atopic dermatitis.

Dr. Nidhin Varghese
Dr. Nidhin Varghese



atopic eczemaatopic dermatitis
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