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SymptomsBy Mayo Clinic staff
Signs and symptoms of atopic dermatitis (eczema) include:
- Red to brownish-gray colored patches
- Itching, which may be severe, especially at night
- Small, raised bumps, which may leak fluid and crust over when scratched
- Thickened, cracked or scaly skin
- Raw, sensitive skin from scratching
Though the patches can occur anywhere, they most often appear on the hands and feet, in the front of the bend of the elbow, behind the knees, and on the ankles, wrists, face, neck and upper chest. Atopic dermatitis can also affect the skin around your eyes, including your eyelids. Scratching can cause redness and swelling around the eyes. Sometimes, rubbing or scratching in this area causes patchy loss of eyebrow hair and eyelashes.
Atopic dermatitis most often begins in childhood before age 5 and may persist into adulthood. For some, it flares periodically and then subsides for a time, even up to several years. Itching may be severe, and scratching the rash can make it even itchier. Breaking this itch-scratch cycle can be challenging.
Factors that worsen atopic dermatitis
Most people with atopic dermatitis also have Staphylococcus aureus bacteria growing on their skin. The staph bacteria multiply and can worsen symptoms, increasing the severity of the disease.
Other factors that can worsen signs and symptoms of atopic dermatitis include:
- Long, hot baths or showers
- Dry skin
- Rapid changes in temperature
- Low humidity
- Solvents, cleaners, soaps or detergents
- Wool or man-made fabrics or clothing
- Dust or sand
- Cigarette smoke
- Certain foods, such as eggs, milk, fish, soy or wheat
When atopic dermatitis occurs in infants, it's called infantile eczema. This condition may continue into childhood and adolescence.
Infantile eczema often involves an oozing, crusting rash, mainly on the face and scalp, but it can occur anywhere. After infancy, the rash becomes dryer and tends to be red to brown-gray in color. In adolescence, the skin may be scaly or thickened and easily irritated. The intense itching may continue.
When to see a doctor
See your doctor if:
- You're so uncomfortable that you're losing sleep or are distracted from your daily routines
- Your skin is painful
- You suspect your skin is infected
- You've tried self-care steps without success
If you suspect your child has atopic dermatitis or you notice the above signs and symptoms, see your child's doctor.
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