What is Eczema?

Atopic dermatitis, or eczema, is a skin disease estimated to occur in 1-4% of children.  While the exact cause is not known, eczema is frequently associated with allergies, and may be aggravated by foods, dust pollens, or animals.  Approximately 75% of children with eczema will also go on to develop respiratory allergies (hay fever or asthma).  The skin is dry with an itchy, red rash.  Weeping, oozing, and crusting of the skin may occur as well as thickening (lichenification) of continually affected areas.  The scratching itself is felt to play a major role in the development of these skin changes.  Bacterial skin infection is common and causes more itching and redness.  The skin also has an increased susceptibility to viral infections such as “warts” or herpes (cold sores, shingles).

Skin of patients with atopic dermatitis does not regulate body temperature normally.  There may be abnormal sweating and abnormal blood vessel responses — the opening and closing of these vessels in the skin.  This means that your child may not react as you expect with changes in room temperature.  He or she may be “cold natured” or “hot natured”.  They may sweat very little.  Since intact skin is also important in holding body fluid, your child may lose extra fluid (simply by evaporation) when he is severely affected.  You might note increased drinking of fluids.  These problems are not dangerous for your child if appropriate therapy is used to clear up the skin lesions.