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Atopic dermatitis or eczema is a condition in which the skin becomes extremely itchy, inflamed, swollen, dry, cracked, and crusted. It is a common skin disease in children and infants, although it can occur at any age. Statistics show that approximately 65% of patients develop symptoms in the first year of life and 90% develop symptoms before the age of five. If the onset of eczema occurs during infancy, it is important to note that in many cases, it improves prior to two years of age. Permanent remission is experienced by many children as they get older.
The overall cause of eczema is unclear, but researchers know that it is triggered by a combination of hereditary and biological factors. Allergies and hay fevers, irritants such as perfumes and dyes found in detergents, fabric softeners and rough fabrics have all been shown to aggravate eczema. Anxiety and stress may also be a factor in causing symptoms to become more severe. It is not unusual to find more than one person in a family experiencing the same problems. Although some foods may provoke attacks, eliminating them will rarely bring about a cure or lasting improvement.
A wide variety of treatments are available, depending on the age of the patient and severity of the condition. The goal of treatment is to heal the skin and to prevent and minimize future attacks.