Atopic dermatitis, also known as skin asthma and eczema, is one of the most common conditions affecting babies and children. Worldwide, roughly 40% of babies from birth to age 3 and about 20% of children between the ages of 3-12 are affected by the condition. In Israel, 350,000 people suffer from atopic dermatitis, 90% of whom are babies and children; half of these children are under age five.
What is atopic dermatitis?
Atopic dermatitis is a chronic, inflammatory skin condition marked by itchiness and dry skin that manifest in a rash and flaky skin. The condition can develop at any age, from infancy to adulthood. Incidence and severity are higher in childhood and tend to wane by puberty. It is caused by an allergic reaction that generates chronic inflammation, itchiness and very dry, scaly skin. Frequent itching makes the skin thick and rough.
What are the symptoms and how can it be diagnosed?
The most common symptom of atopic dermatitis is severe, constant, almost unbearable itchiness, which can sometimes disrupt sleep and functioning. It may coincide with blisters, dry skin, changes in skin texture, and bleeding caused by frequent itching. In babies under age two, the cheeks, arms, neck and knees are affected first.
In children, the rash is most prominent in the folds of the skin – the neck, ankles, knees, elbows and wrists. In adults, it is more prominent on the face, neck, chest and limbs. The condition is usually diagnosed by examining the skin and by reviewing family medical history of allergies.
What are the anatomical processes that cause flare-ups?
Most experts agree that flare-ups stem from a combination of genetic predisposition, immune system irregularity, and a breakdown of the skin’s ability to function as a barrier to external foreign bodies. This breakdown in the skin’s barrier to the environment manifests in dry skin, excessive perspiration and itchiness. Skin becomes more permeable to factors like pollutants and allergens.
External factors can also cause flare-ups. These include dry, hot weather or pollutants such as viruses, bacteria, cleaning products, etc.
How can the condition be treated?
Treatment depends on the severity of symptoms and the appearance of the skin, but the best way to treat atopic dermatitis is to use products specially formulated to treat the condition. Choose products that nourish and moisturize the skin and balance pH levels. Use mineral oil-free soap or gentle bath oil that contains plant-based ingredients to maintain an optimal level of acidity. This helps preserve the skin’s natural barrier of protection while preventing irritation and dry skin. Choose products that have been tested and were found to be suitable for sensitive skin. Add the bath product to the bath water; do not apply directly to your baby’s skin. After bathing, apply therapeutic moisturizer to the entire body. Use three times a day in extreme cases of dry skin. Choose a medicated cleansing mousse that can be used sparingly instead of soaps or oils that are easier to spill.
If the rash spreads and covers a large area or if there is discharge, fever or other signs of infection, contact your baby’s physician.