The term ‘atopic’ refers to a personal and family tendency to develop eczema, asthma and/or hay fever. Although these conditions tend to be hereditary, they may skip a generation. Atopic eczema can flare up and then calm down for a time, but the skin tends to be dry and itchy even in- between flare ups. It often affects the creases of body joints, such as the backs of the knees or inside the elbows, but in black skin the eczema often affects the front of the knees and elbows. Atopic Eczema can occur in small patches or all over the body.
The chief characteristic of atopic eczema is the ‘itch’ which at times can become almost unbearable leading to sleep loss, frustration, stress and depression. It is crucial to acknowledge that this can affect the whole family, not just the person with eczema.
Atopic eczema is the most common form of eczema and is primarily seen in children, beginning in the first year of life in about 60% of children and within the first five years in 85%.
Most children grow out of atopic eczema and in approximately 65% of them the eczema has gone by the time they are seven years of age. By the time they are 16, the eczema will have disappeared in approximately 74%.
Generally speaking those who have the more severe eczema are less likely to grow out of it. However, even children who out grow eczema can continue to have sensitive skin as adults.
Research has shown that along with genetic factors, environmental factors also play a part in the development of eczema and flare-ups that appear to be random can often be caused by environmental triggers - cold air or sunshine for example.
Other common triggers of Atopic Eczema:
- soap and detergents
- skin infections
- allergen in house dust mite droppings
- animal allergen in a pet's fur, saliva and urine
- pollens in trees, grass, weeds and shrubs
- wool and rough fabric in clothing
Learning what your triggers are can help you to take control of your eczema although it may not always be immediately apparent what has provoked a flare-up.
Many people with atopic eczema find that there is a connection between eczema and stress although whether the stress causes the eczema or vice versa is less clear.
Although there is currently no known cure for atopic eczema, when well managed it is possible to limit its impact on day to day life.