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Atopic dermatitis in adults and adolescents

June 10, 2008 - 7:30am
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Atopic dermatitis in adults and adolescents

Atopic dermatitis, or eczema, is most common in young children and infants, but persistent, irritating inflammations can also occur well into adolescence and adulthood. In some cases, the first symptoms of the condition may not even show up until later in life. Recent research indicates that the prevalence of this disease is actually increasing. This may be due to environmental factors, such as extreme hot or cold temperatures and air pollutants.

Individuals with eczema often experience unbearable itching, particularly at night. While scratching may provide short-term relief, it only makes symptoms worse and leaves skin cracked and more susceptible to infection. These symptoms lead to sleeplessness and irritability, and ultimately, lower productivity at work or school. These factors, combined with an eczema patient's physical appearance, can be life-altering and have a devastating impact on the person's self-esteem and their families as well.

Current treatments

Many of the 15 million sufferers of eczema are adults and teenagers who have endured the disease for years. In older patients, eczema generally involves the hands, neck, chest, inner elbows, back of the knees and the ankles. The condition usually affects more than one area at a time, resulting in multiple areas of infection and itching. Available treatments include:

  • Topical prescription steroid creams and ointments
  • Phototherapy with ultraviolet A or B waves
  • Photochemotherapy
  • Antibiotics for skin infections
  • Antihistamines and immunosuppressive drugs

Many dermatologists report that sufferers are currently dissatisfied with the available treatments and desperately seek a new form of relief. This dissatisfaction often leads to poor patient compliance or a discontinuation of therapy.

Research continues to emerge linking eczema flares to stress. Many dermatologists are integrating discussions about stress management into their patient visits. They will often provide lifestyle management tips to help patients minimize the stress in their lives and ultimately reduce the chance of inflammations. Activities include practical lifestyle tips such as yoga, meditation, setting priorities and finding an enjoyable hobby.

Prevention and management strategies

Reducing inflammations requires establishing a regular skin care routine and the development of a treatment strategy by a dermatologist. Here are tips a dermatologist may typically provide to patients:

  • Wear cotton or natural fabrics to avoid common fiber irritants.
  • Avoid scratching or rubbing affected skin.
  • Take brief, lukewarm baths and showers using mild soap or non-soap cleansers (avoiding extremely hot temperatures). Gently pat the skin dry with a soft towel (avoid rubbing dry skin).
  • Apply lubricants (creams or ointments, as suggested by the physician), immediately after bathing.
  • Recognize and avoid early signs of skin infection, such as tiny pustules, oozing sores, or crusty, yellow blisters.


American Academy of Dermatology, 2001

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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