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Atopic Dermatitis

Various rashes are common indicators of atopic dermatitis (eczema), but the rash is generally caused by scratching and not by the condition itself. In atopic dermatitis, the skin is not as effective a barrier as it should be. A protein in the skin called filaggrin is part of the network of proteins that holds the skin together. When this protein does not work correctly, the skin becomes dry and easily irritated. People with atopic dermatitis also tend to have allergies to ordinary substances, such as milk and eggs.

The weakness of the skin barrier can also lead to serious infections from germs the body normally fights off or resists effectively. Staph (a bacterium that lives on the skin) can penetrate the skin barrier of a person with atopic dermatitis, resulting in an infection not seen in most people. Infections of human papilloma virus (HPV) or herpes simplex viruses can be more serious in skin compromised by atopic dermatitis than in the skin of most people. Having atopic dermatitis is also a risk factor for asthma.

Atopic dermatitis begins more often in children than in adults. Even infants can begin to show symptoms of the condition. It seems to result partly from genetics and partly from irritants or allergens in the environment.  Many patients with atopic dermatitis have dry skin, and research studies suggest that the barrier of their skin does not work as well, which makes skin more susceptible to irritants. Some common irritants are wool and synthetic clothing, fabric softener and other fragrances. Regardless of what triggers atopic dermatitis, it is a chronic condition that should be managed. 

Atopic dermatitis (eczema) can be very challenging to treat effectively. It is an autoimmune disorder, which means that the immune system has become sensitized to the skin and is attacking it.

Indiana University Health specialists have extensive experience with atopic dermatitis. Our dermatologists see many people with a wide range of symptoms. We can diagnose atopic dermatitis accurately and work closely with you to personalize your treatment to your specific needs. As the only dermatology training institution in Indiana, we are on the forefront of treatment innovations. In fact, people with severe conditions are referred to us from throughout Indiana.

With patients’ consent, we often conduct appointments with residents (new doctors) and fellows (experienced doctors seeking advanced training), giving patients the advantage of two or more doctors conferring during or immediately after the examination. This helps with the accuracy of diagnostic and treatment decisions. We also have a regular meeting among specialists, including allergists, to discuss our patients’ conditions and share different expert perspectives.

Our physicians are faculty at Indiana University School of Medicine and are highly regarded in our field. We conduct basic research and clinical studies that can make the latest treatments and clinical trials available to our patients before they are available elsewhere. 

How We Can Help

How We Can Help

Atopic Dermatitis Treatment Information

Common treatments for atopic dermatitis include:

Treatment also involves changes in what you eat, and in the fabrics and substances you allow to touch your skin. Daily moisturizers are a common requirement to reduce the vulnerability of dry skin caused by atopic dermatitis. Wearing cotton clothes and avoiding fabric softener also reduce skin irritation.

Atopic dermatitis cannot be cured, but children who develop it seem to grow out of it over a long period of time. This is partly because of changes in the body, but it is also likely that adapted behavior—wearing non-irritating clothes, eating safe foods, avoiding fragrances—removes the triggers of the disorder. 


Atopic Dermatitis Locations & Physicians

Use the search options below to find treatments available in your area. 

Find a Specialist

Enter a Zip Code to find a specialist at IU Health.


Atopic Dermatitis Support Services

Much of your treatment for atopic dermatitis consists of behavioral changes, which you can learn about on reliable websites. You can also help your condition by knowing what to look for and report on when you visit your physician.