Atopic eczema is an inflammatory condition of the skin. Atopic is the term used to
describe conditions such as eczema, asthma, seasonal rhinitis and hay fever, which
often have a genetic basis.
Eczema is the term used to describe changes in the upper layer of the skin that include
redness, blistering, oozing, crusting, scaling, thickening and sometimes pigmentation
(although not all of these changes will necessarily occur together). The words eczema
and dermatitis are interchangeable and mean the same thing: thus atopic eczema is
the same as atopic dermatitis.
Atopic eczema affects both sexes equally and usually starts in the first weeks or
months of life. It is most common in children, affecting at least 10% of infants
at some stage. It usually disappears during childhood, although it can carry on into
adult life or come back in the teenage or early adult years. It may occasionally
develop for the first time in adulthood.
A tendency to atopic conditions often runs in families and is part of your genetic
make-up. In people with atopic eczema, the function of their skin as a barrier to
the outside world does not work well, so that irritant and allergy-inducing substance
enter their skin, and may cause dryness and inflammation. Atopic eczema is not catching.
The main symptom is itch. Scratching in response to itch may be the cause for many
of the changes seen on the skin. Itching can be bad enough to interfere with sleep,
causing tiredness and irritability.