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How to Treat and Prevent Atopic Dermatitis

written by: Vasanth • edited by: Tania Cowling • updated: 5/26/2011

Find out how to manage the symptoms of atopic dermatitis. Learn about the medications that are commonly prescribed for this skin condition and how certain lifestyle changes can reduce itching and soothe the skin.

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    What is Atopic Dermatitis?

    Atopic dermatitis is commonly referred to as eczema. It is a skin condition characterized by excessive itching and inflammation. The arms and legs are usually affected by this condition. The skin appears red or brown, and the surface may be bumpy. Scratching causes the bumps to exude pus, which dries and forms a scaly crust.

    Atopic dermatitis affects children primarily, but some may experience symptoms into adulthood. The condition may occur with allergies. Those with dermatitis may develop hay fever and asthma.

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    Managing the Condition With Medications

    There are several medications that can treat the symptoms of atopic dermatitis. Most are topical creams designed to reduce itching and inflammation. Corticosteroid ointments are one option. It relieves the symptoms of dermatitis but has potential side effects including skin discoloration, thinning of the skin, and stretch marks. Oral corticosteroids, such as prednisone, are prescribed when the symptoms are extremely difficult to live with. The side effects include cataracts, loss of bone minerals, and muscle weakness.

    Another type of drug used to treat excessive itching is oral antihistamines. Diphenhydramine is one such drug. The side effects include drowsiness. Immunomodulators is a group of drugs that reduce flare-ups of atopic dermatitis by acting on the immune system.

    Antibiotics may be prescribed in certain circumstances. Usually, excessive itching causes the skin to become infected. Impetigo is one type of infection that may occur.

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    Lifestyle Changes

    An important part of management of atopic dermatitis involves changing certain conditions in your home. Increasing the humidity with a humidifier improves dry skin. Wearing soft cotton clothing prevents irritation of the skin. Tight clothing and wool materials will irritate dermatitis. Avoid scratching the skin as much as possible. This may be difficult to do, but make a concerted effort. Another lifestyle change to consider is reducing the frequency of showers. This will help the skin retain more moisture.

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    Alternative Treatments

    One alternative treatment that may calm atopic dermatitis involves the use of light. Natural sunlight eases the symptoms of dermatitis. UVA and UVB lamps are effective as well. The phototherapy should be used for a limited amount of time, as recommended by your doctor. Prolong exposure may damage the skin.

    Another option is to cover the affected area with a cool, wet compress. Warm oatmeal baths, prepared from colloidal oatmeal, effectively soothes irritated skin.

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    Prevention

    There are several steps you can take to prevent flare-ups of atopic dermatitis. Use soaps that are mild and free of dyes or perfumes. Protect the skin from excessive drying with moisturizers. Apply an anti-itch lotion, such as calamine, or nonprescription hydrocortisone cream to the affected areas. Avoid allergens that may trigger itching, including wool. Take precautions when handling rugs and bedding.

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    Reference

    1. "Atopic Dermatitis (eczema)." Mayo Clinic. http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/eczema/DS00986

    2. "Atopic Dermatitis." MedicineNet. http://www.medicinenet.com/atopic_dermatitis/article.htm