Atopic dermatitis, often referred to as ‘eczema’, is a chronic inflammatory skin disorder associated with cutaneous hyper-reactivity to environmental triggers that do not affect normal, non-atopic individuals.1 The term ‘atopic’ refers to a tendency to suffer an allergic condition. Atopic dermatitis is strongly associated with other atopic diseases such as asthma and allergic rhinitis and there is substantial evidence suggesting that atopic dermatitis predisposes affected individuals to the development of these disorders later in life.2
Atopic dermatitis has traditionally been characterised by periods of exacerbations, known as flares, interspersed with periods of apparent remission. More recently, it has been demonstrated that atopic dermatitis is characterised by continuous subclinical inflammation of the skin, typically interspersed with flares. A flare is defined as an episode involving a sudden increase in inflammation and itching, requiring an escalation of treatment or additional medical advice.3 Flares are visibly evident by the appearance of red, inflamed areas of skin. Examples of the appearance of atopic dermatitis are shown in figure 1 below.
Figure 1. The appearance of Atopic Dermatitis
Atopic dermatitis affects patients to varying degrees and is categorised as mild, moderate or severe. The progression of atopic dermatitis also differs considerably from person to person. A more detailed discussion of how atopic dermatitis is diagnosed and assessed is available in the management section of this Knowledge Centre.
1. Leung DY, Boguniewicz M, Howell MD, et al. New insights into atopic dermatitis. J Clin Invest 2004; 113:651-7
2. Williams HC. Clinical practice. Atopic dermatitis. N Engl J Med 2005; 352: 2314-24
3. Langan SM, Thomas KS, Williams HC. What is meant by a "flare" in atopic dermatitis? A systematic review and proposal. Arch Dermatol 2006; 142: 1190-6
An educational portal providing current information on the prevalence, causes, treatment and management of Atopic Dermatitis.
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