Atopic Dermatitis (also known as Atopic Eczema) is one of the most common skin diseases of childhood and affects between 10 and 20% of children globally. In a third of these cases the disease fades out during childhood but, for others, it can continue into adulthood.
A non-contagious but distressing and sometimes painful condition, Atopic Dermatitis typically goes through 2 phases. An inactive phase, where skin is very dry, irritable and flaky and needs to be moisturized on a daily basis and an active phase (or ‘flare-up’) where skin needs to be treated with topical medications to calm inflammation and alleviate itching.
What are the causes and triggers?
Atopic Dermatitis is thought to be genetic. There is a known link between Atopic Dermatitis, hay fever and asthma and evidence shows that if either or both parents suffer from these conditions, their children will be more prone to Atopic Dermatitis. Research has also shown that children from developed countries living in urban areas where the intensity of pollutants is higher, as well as those living in cold climates, are more likely to develop the condition.
Once affected, there are a number of reasons why symptoms get worse or flare-ups occur. Sufferers are known to have a deficiency of important lipids and Natural Moisturising Factors (“NMFs” such as Urea and amino acids). As a result their skin’s moisture barrier function is weakened, moisture loss is increased and they are prone to dryness. A compromised moisture barrier function means that harmful substances like allergens and irritants can penetrate and skin becomes infected more easily. Sufferers are also known to have an irregular immune function (known as atopy), which makes their skin more reactive to the environment and susceptible to inflammation.
Problems are often caused when the child scratches an itch and disturbs their already fragile skin barrier. This causes bacteria called Staphylococcus Aureus to multiply and infect the skin. The infection causes inflammation, which causes itching which further worsens the condition: a vicious process known as the Atopic Skin Cycle. Read more in Atopic Dermatitis.
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