A dermatologist smilingAtopic dermatitis is a chronic (long-lasting) disease that affects
the skin. It is not contagious; it cannot be passed from one person to another.
The word “dermatitis” means inflammation of the skin. “Atopic” refers to a group
of diseases where there is often an inherited tendency to develop other allergic
conditions, such as asthma and hay fever. In atopic dermatitis, the skin becomes
extremely itchy. Scratching leads to redness, swelling, cracking, “weeping”
clear fluid, and finally, crusting and scaling. In most cases, there are periods
of time when the disease is worse (called exacerbations or flares) followed by
periods when the skin improves or clears up entirely (called remissions). As
some children with atopic dermatitis grow older, their skin disease improves or
disappears altogether, although their skin often remains dry and easily
irritated. In others, atopic dermatitis continues to be a significant problem in

Atopic dermatitis is often referred to as “eczema,” which is a
general term for the several types of inflammation of the skin. Atopic
dermatitis is the most common of the many types of eczema. Several have very
similar symptoms. Types of eczema are described in the box on page 5.

Incidence and Prevalence of Atopic Dermatitis

Atopic dermatitis is very common. It affects males and females and
accounts for 10 to 20 percent of all visits to dermatologists (doctors who
specialize in the care and treatment of skin diseases). Although atopic
dermatitis may occur at any age, it most often begins in infancy and childhood.
Scientists estimate that 65 percent of patients develop symptoms in the first
year of life, and 90 percent develop symptoms before the age of 5. Onset after
age 30 is less common and is often due to exposure of the skin to harsh or wet
conditions. Atopic dermatitis is a common cause of workplace disability. People
who live in cities and in dry climates appear more likely to develop this

Although it is difficult to identify exactly how many people are
affected by atopic dermatitis, an estimated 20 percent of infants and young
children experience symptoms of the disease. Roughly 60 percent of these infants
continue to have one or more symptoms of atopic dermatitis in adulthood. This
means that more than 15 million people in the United States have symptoms of the

Types of Eczema (Dermatitis)