What causes atopic dermatitis?
The causes of atopic dermatitis are complex and various.
Genetic predisposition plays a key role, but other factors also have an impact, such as:
- smoking (passive or active)
- dust mites
- exposure to allergens
Various environmental contributing factors can exacerbate symptoms, such as using highly foaming products for daily hygiene, wearing woolen or synthetic clothing, wearing clothing that’s too heavy or adhesive, and the presence of animals in the house.
The role of the skin barrier
There is always an alteration of the skin barrier underlying symptoms of atopic dermatitis. The skin barrier is the defensive structure of the skin, organized like a wall.
When the barrier is altered, the skin’s “wall” lacks certain lipids that compose its mortar and its bricks become disordered. Consequently, it can no longer hold water or obstruct the entrance of potentially damaging substances into the innermost layers of the skin.
Therefore, the skin becomes very dry and is more exposed to external threats.
What are its symptoms?
Atopic dermatitis can be identified by the appearance of red patches, intense itching, and dry skin.
In more serious cases there can also be blisters and swelling with erosion and scabs.
For children in the first months of life it appears on the cheeks, forehead, and around the mouth, to then spread along arms and legs.
In adolescents it tends to also appear in the folds of the elbow and knee, on hands and feet, and around the eyes.
In adults it is also very common on the face and upper part of the body.
How can I treat atopic dermatitis?
It’s essential to refer to a specialist, pediatrist, or dermatologist for the most appropriate treatment.
Therapy - which varies according to the seriousness of symptoms and age of the patient - keeps symptoms under control and reduces flare-up periods but won’t definitively cure the disease.
Specific emollient treatments can reduce any discomfort caused by the disease, to which you can also add cortisones.
Biological medications are used in the most serious cases.
At all events, it’s beneficial to repair the skin barrier, given its altered permeability is among the disease’s precipitating factors.
Practical tips for managing atopic dermatitis
Changing even very small daily habits can reduce the appearance or deterioration of symptoms.
What you wear matters: clothes can help to either reduce or exacerbate skin dryness.
- Avoid woolen, pylon, or nylon clothing, as they can increase sensations of dryness and discomfort.
- Don’t wear too tight-footing clothing, as they can increase friction with irritated skin.
- Choose only soft clothing, as cotton and silk cause less friction, allow skin to perspire, and absorb sweat.
- Wash your clothes with gently and without fabric softener.
Around the house
Our homes can conceal real and significant dangers for atopic skin. Here’s what to look out for.
- Eliminate sources of accumulation of allergens, such as plush toys, heavy blinds, carpets, rugs, or carpeted floors.
- Avoid feathered cushions and wool mattresses.
- Use only cotton sheets, change them every week, and wash them at 60°.
- Use pillowcases and mattress covers made from anti-mite fabric.
- Vacuum with a vacuum cleaner fitted with a HEPA filter.
- Air rooms every day.
- Don’t heat rooms above 20° in winter.
- Don’t smoke
Atopic dermatitis and diet
A healthy diet from the first months of life is essential for the body’s wellbeing.
You can check with a doctor or pediatrician if you are concerned about having a food intolerance that could exacerbate symptoms.
- Showers are preferable to baths.
- Wash yourself with lukewarm water (37°): heat increases the skin’s dryness, and therefore itchiness and skin alterations.
- Baths should last at most 10 minutes.
- Don’t use sponges, as they can contain grime and microbes.
- Dry yourself gently with soft towels, dabbing without rubbing.
- Appy the emollient after baths on wet skin.
The role of cosmetics
To take care of skin with an atopic tendency, each day can make a difference. The use of appropriate cosmetics, formulated to protect and repair the skin barrier, can help reduce related discomfort.
What type of cleanser should I use?
- It shouldn’t contain surfactants that degrease too much.
- It shouldn’t contain preservatives that can provoke allergic reactions, fragrances, or nickel.
- It should contain the pH value 5.0-5.5
- If possible, it should be non-foaming or not highly foaming
- You should change your normal cleanser with an oily cleanser every now and then, as they produce lipids and reduce itchiness.
Specific lenitive cosmetic treatments can also be useful. They should be applied several times on days when suffering from irritations.
It’s advisable, on the other hand, to apply a good emollient treatment every day that:
- Has a base of fundamental epidermal lipids that atopic skin lacks (that is, ceramides, cholesterol and fatty acids)
- Doesn’t contain fragrance.
- Doesn’t contain irritant substances.
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The above information is not medical advice. It is given purely as an indication and is not intended as a substitute for professional advice.