Eczema is another word for dermatitis, which is inflammation of the skin. There are many types of eczema, although the term has incorrectly come to be associated with a specific type of dermatitis called atopic dermatitis. Atopic dermatitis is a chronic, noncontagious condition that causes itchy, inflamed skin. Atopic dermatitis (eczema) most commonly affects the insides of the elbows, the backs of the knees, and the face, but it can affect any area of the body. In rare cases, it may cover most of the body.

Although atopic dermatitis can develop at any age, it is most common in infants and children. More than half of people with atopic dermatitis develop symptoms in the first year of life, and almost all develop symptoms before age 5. The condition often improves in adulthood, but half of those affected as children are affected throughout life.

A Baby With Eczema

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In the United States, it is estimated that 28 million people have eczema.

The exact cause of atopic dermatitis is still unknown, but current theories suggest that it is related to an abnormal immune response and genetic factors. Atopic dermatitis is often associated with other hereditary allergic disorders, such as hay fever and asthma.

Flare-ups may be triggered by:

  • Extremes in temperature and climate
  • Emotional stress
  • Skin irritants
  • Airborne and contact allergens
  • Viral, bacterial, and possibly fungal infections of the skin
  • Dry skin