Atopic dermatitis is very common. It affects males and females and accounts for 10 to 20 percent of all visits to dermatologists (doctors who specialize in the care and treatment of skin diseases). Although atopic dermatitis may occur at any age, it most often begins in infancy and childhood.
Scientists estimate that 65 percent of patients develop symptoms in the first year of life, and 90 percent develop symptoms before the age of 5. Onset after age 30 is less common and is often due to exposure of the skin to harsh or wet conditions. Atopic dermatitis is a common cause of workplace disability. People who live in cities and in dry climates appear more likely to develop this condition.
Types of Eczema (Dermatitis)
Allergic contact eczema (dermatitis): a red, itchy, weepy reaction where the skin has come into contact with a substance that the immune system recognizes as foreign, such as poison ivy or certain preservatives in creams and lotions
Atopic dermatitis: a chronic skin disease characterized by itchy, inflamed skin
Contact eczema: a localized reaction that includes redness, itching, and burning where the skin has come into contact with an allergen (an allergycausing substance) or with an irritant such as an acid, a cleaning agent, or other chemical
Dyshidrotic eczema: irritation of the skin on the palms of hands and soles of the feet characterized by clear, deep blisters that itch and burn
Neurodermatitis: scaly patches of the skin on the head, lower legs, wrists, or forearms caused by a localized itch (such as an insect bite) that become intensely irritated when scratched
Nummular eczema: coin-shaped patches of irritated skin - most common on the arms, back, buttocks, and lower legs - that may be crusted, scaling, and extremely itchy
Seborrheic eczema: yellowish, oily, scaly patches of skin on the scalp, face, and occasionally other parts of the body
Although it is difficult to identify exactly how many people are affected by atopic dermatitis, an estimated 20 percent of infants and young children experience symptoms of the disease. Roughly 60 percent of these infants continue to have one or more symptoms of atopic dermatitis in adulthood. This means that more than 15 million people in the United States have symptoms of the disease.
Revision date: June 21, 2011
Last revised: by Janet A. Staessen, MD, PhD