Atopic Dermatitis in Children

What is atopic dermatitis in children?

Atopic dermatitis is a long-term (chronic) skin condition. It causes
dry, itchy skin. It’s a very common condition in babies and children. It usually first
appears between ages 3 and 6 months.

What causes atopic dermatitis in a child?

The exact cause of atopic dermatitis is not known. But some things are linked to it. They include: 

  • Genes. This skin problem can be passed on from parents to a child. 
  • Immune system. An immune system that isn’t fully developed may affect how much protection the skin can give.
  • External factors. These include being in winter weather, using hot water for bathing, using soap, and being in dry, hot temperatures.

Which children are at risk for atopic dermatitis?

A child has a greater chance of having atopic dermatitis if he or she has:

  • Family members with atopic dermatitis
  • Allergies

What are the symptoms of atopic dermatitis in a child?

Symptoms may come and go, or occur most or all of the time. Any area of the body may be affected. In babies, symptoms usually affect the face, neck, scalp, elbows, and knees. In children, symptoms usually affect the skin inside the elbows, on the back of the knees, the sides of the neck, around the mouth, and on the wrists, ankles, and hands.

Symptoms can occur a bit differently in each child. They can include:

  • Dry, scaly skin
  • Severe itching
  • Redness and swelling
  • Thickened skin
  • Pale skin on the face
  • Small, raised bumps that may become crusty and leak fluid if scratched
  • Rough bumps on the face, upper arms, and thighs
  • Darkened skin of eyelids or around the eyes
  • Skin changes around the mouth, eyes, or ears
  • Raised, red areas (hives)

The symptoms of atopic dermatitis can be like other health conditions. Make sure your child sees his or her healthcare provider for a diagnosis.

How is atopic dermatitis diagnosed in a child?

The healthcare provider will ask about your child’s symptoms and health history. He or she may also ask if you or other family members have atopic dermatitis, asthma, or nasal allergies such as hay fever or allergic rhinitis. He or she will also ask about allergy symptoms in your child. The healthcare provider will examine your child, looking for signs of atopic dermatitis. There is no specific test for atopic dermatitis. Testing is usually not needed, but it may be done. Tests may include:

  • Blood tests. Your child’s blood may be checked for levels of immunoglobulin E (IgE). IgE is released by the body’s immune system. It’s high in most children with allergies and with atopic dermatitis. Other blood tests may also be done.
  • Skin tests. Skin tests may be done to check for allergies or other skin conditions.