The Pathophysiology of Eczema: Atopic Dermatitis, Explained

atopic meaning
atopic meaning

Eczema, Dermatitis and Atopic: Meaning, Symptoms & Treatment

Dermatitis and eczema are synonymous and frequently used interchangeably, however there are many different kinds of dermatitis and eczema. Atopic dermatitis or atopic eczema is one type of dermatitis or eczema. There are other types, for example, contact dermatitis or contact eczema.

Atopic dermatitis is the most common form of eczema around the world. It is estimated that 7.3% of U.S. adults will experience the condition at some point in their lives. Because the condition comes and goes (and can appear unexpectedly), understanding atopic dermatitis can help patients know when and how to seek out support.

The current eczema pathophysiology states that people with eczema suffer from the condition due to a lack of filaggrin. Filaggrin is a protein responsible for building a strong, protective skin barrier. Without enough of this protein, bacteria, moisture, and viruses enter, leading to eczema.

In this article, you will learn the “atopic” meaning and how it relates to dermatitis, more on the pathophysiology of eczema, and what treatments are currently available.

What is Atopic Dermatitis?

“Atopic” refers to a form of allergy that results in hypersensitivity elsewhere on the body (reaction doesn’t always happen where the allergen touches the skin), and “dermatitis” refers to skin irritations such as redness, itchiness, or swelling. When combined, this leads to atopic dermatitis: a condition that leads to red and itchy skin. It can appear in several places on the body, such as the knees, elbows, thighs, and neck. Eczema is often a chronic condition that flares up periodically. Only in the most severe cases does a person have to live with atopic dermatitis permanently.

Many times, eczema may also be accompanied by a flare-up of asthma or hay fever; although this is not a hard and fast rule.

Children are more susceptible to eczema, with 13% of children in the U.S. suffering from some form of the condition. Unfortunately, it tends to run in the family, and there are no comprehensive cures.

Those with atopic dermatitis must adapt to the reality that they may need to seek treatment every time they experience a flare-up.

Signs and Symptoms of Atopic Dermatitis

“Why do the back of my knees itch?” Anyone who has ever asked this question is likely experiencing an episode of eczema. Itchy elbows (meaning redness and discomfort) could also point toward the condition. Children who are experiencing the condition for the first time are advised to see a doctor to receive a formal diagnosis.

Some of the signs and symptoms to look for include:

  • Excessively dry skin
  • Severe itching (particularly at night)
  • Red or brown patches on the body, especially around the joints, neck, hands, feet, and ankles. Infants may show these patches on the scalp and face.
  • Small, raised bumps
  • Leaking fluids
  • Scaly skin
  • Raw, sensitive skin

Everyone’s symptoms will differ. Parents should be especially mindful because most cases of atopic dermatitis appear for the first time before the age of five. Remember that the “atopic” meaning implies sensitivity to allergens, so certain factors may trigger the condition.

Patients with atopic dermatitis may need to avoid certain triggers, including specific fabrics, materials and foods.

Diagnosis & Treatment

Everyone’s eczema is different, but the diagnosis and treatment of the condition will largely remain the same. Children should be taken to a doctor upon initially noticing common eczema symptoms.

Let’s discuss the way doctors diagnose eczema and the way they will treat it.

How Doctors Diagnose Eczema

Atopic dermatitis has no special examination. Doctors will simply examine the symptoms and diagnose the condition.

Doctors will likely review a person’s family medical history and may perform patch tests to rule out other skin diseases. In particular, eczema can also resemble ringworm, psoriasis, or other conditions. Medical professionals will look to rule out the presence of other skin conditions.

How Atopic Dermatitis is Treated

Treatment options vary based on the person. Atopic dermatitis may be mild or severe. Furthermore, the number of flares could impact the way a qualified dermatologist chooses to treat a patient’s eczema.

Many sufferers of the condition can go for many years without experiencing any symptoms at all.

Atopic dermatitis treatments can be broken into two distinct categories, each with its own methods for treatment and prevention.

Mild Eczema

  • Avoiding Known Triggers Everyone will have a set of triggers. Doctors will note down these and encourage their patients to avoid triggering atopic dermatitis.
  • Strengthening the Skin Barrier – The genetic deficiency some eczema sufferers have means they must pay special attention to their bathing and moisturizing routines to protect their skin and strengthen the protective barrier.
  • Lifestyle Changes Lack of sleep, poor diet, and high levels of stress are all common triggers for eczema. Doctors often provide lifestyle plans to support people in reducing these triggers.

Mild atopic dermatitis may be treated with these simple changes, but if these methods do not achieve any success, more potent treatments could be required.

Moderate to Severe Eczema

Moderate to severe eczema is defined by the significance of the symptoms and the regularity of flare-ups. Some prescription medications have shown some success in suppressing symptoms and reducing the strength of the condition.

Some options a dermatologist may choose to explore include:

  • Biologics
  • Non-steroidal topicals
  • Topical corticosteroids
  • Other oral treatments, depending on severity

Some trial and error may be required to find the best acting treatment for the individual. Experimenting with new prescriptions will not lead to any overnight changes. Some months of experimentation will be required.


Atopic dermatitis is a condition that does not yet have a cure. With so many millions of American children and adults living with it throughout their lives, the medical community is hard at work to find a cure.

Clinical trials are a vital part of the process of finding new, more effective eczema treatments. If you suffer from eczema, you could be eligible for an eczema clinical trial where you can test treatments.

To learn more about medical trials in your area, contact Vial today.

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