Atopic eczema is a common skin disorder that causes itchy rashes and painful blisters. The condition is most frequently seen in infants and young children, and most people outgrow the disorder by early adulthood. Atopic eczema is thought to be a component of an inherited autoimmune disorder that also predisposes sufferers to asthma and nasal allergies. In most cases, acute episodes of atopic eczema can be relieved at home with soothing lotions and over-the-counter antihistamines. It is important to consult with a doctor if rashes persist for several days or attacks frequently recur to learn about preventive measures.
Many different environmental factors can trigger acute attacks, and some people are more sensitive to certain triggers than others. Allergies to pollen, grass, and mold are major triggers for many patients. Skin exposure to very cold weather, irritating perfumes or soaps, poisonous plants, and industrial chemicals can also cause episodes. Rashes can appear anywhere on the body, but most infants and children primarily experience outbreaks on their faces, necks, hands, or feet. It is possible for a rash to spread during a severe attack and cover large areas of the body.
When an episode of atopic eczema is triggered, the first sign is usually a dry, red, itchy patch of skin. Over the course of one to four hours, itching tends to worsen and one or more light-colored blisters develop in the rash. Blisters ooze white or yellow pus and eventually form hard crusts. It is very tempting to scratch the skin, but doctors strongly advise against doing so, as scratching can further irritate the skin and introduce bacteria into open blisters.
An infant who develops a severe rash for the first time should be evaluated by a pediatrician. The doctor can evaluate physical symptoms and perform allergy tests to confirm a diagnosis and rule out other types of skin disorders. In the pediatrician's office, a patient may be given a low-dose oral antihistamine and a topical itch-relieving ointment.
The key to managing atopic eczema is avoiding known triggers and keeping the skin as healthy as possible. Rashes are most likely to develop if skin is excessively dry, so it is essential for caregivers to apply moisturizing lotions and gentle skin creams often. Mild soaps and shampoos should be used to avoid irritation, and doctors often suggest bathing infants less frequently to reduce skin dryness. Older children may be scheduled for regular allergy shots to help reduce the chances of allergy-induced episodes.