Atopic dermatitis (atopic eczema or just eczema) is a name given to a stubborn itchy rash that occurs in certain people with sensitive or irritable skin. Eczema is common in infants and young children, and may disappear before adulthood. Eczema may clear for years, only to reappear later – often on the hands.

What causes it?

The cause is unknown. It’s the result of a built-in defect of the skin that tends to run in families. This defect causes the skin to lose water and to become dry compared to normal skin. Eczema is not contagious and is not related to your general health. People with eczema have skin that is dry and easily irritated by soap, detergents, and rough wool clothing. Clothes washed or dried with liquid or sheet fabric softeners such as Cling, may also irritate the skin. Hot and cold weather often aggravate eczema. Certain allergies may worsen eczema, but they don’t cause it. People with atopic eczema have a greater incidence of asthma and hayfever in themselves and in their families.

How do I treat it?

Since eczema patients have a constitutional skin defect, no permanent cure is possible. However, there are effective ways of controlling it. Vaseline and cortisone compounds applied to the skin are the best medicines for controlling eczema. Most cortisone salves can be used safely for years if they are low potency. When large areas of the body are treated with strong cortisone preparations, periodic medical checkups are necessary. Strong cortisones shouldn’t be applied to the face, armpits, groin, or rectal area. When using cortisone ointments always remember to use a little and massage it in well. Cyclosporine and tacrolimus are new medications that are used in more difficult cases. A recent study showed that giving your child a daily, 30-minute massage, while applying a bland lotion or ointment, over the course of six weeks, was as effective as treatment with topical steroids daily for four weeks. We feel the massage method is safer and promotes a more wholesome bond between parent and child. Try it!