Frequent atopic dermatitis flare-ups may be a part of a bigger story happening inside your body. The visible signs of your atopic dermatitis may come from under your skin. Find out what may cause atopic dermatitis, and what could really be going on under your skin.

What Is Atopic Dermatitis?

When you think about atopic dermatitis, a chronic form of atopic eczema, what probably comes to mind is the itchy, burning rash you can see. But there’s a bigger story going on beneath the skin.

Atopic dermatitis is more than a skin condition. It’s a disease caused in part by an overreaction of your body’s natural defense system.

Understanding what happens on the inside may help you better manage the symptoms of atopic dermatitis. Watch the video to learn more.

While the redness and rash of atopic dermatitis are visible on your skin, the real story may be happening beneath the surface.

Atopic dermatitis is more than a skin condition. It's a disease caused by an overactive immune system that leads to inflammation in your body.

It is this internal inflammation that causes the symptoms you know.

Atopic dermatitis is called the “itch that rashes” for a reason.

While scratching may offer short-term relief, in the long run you're actually making your atopic dermatitis—and the itch—worse.

This is called the itch-scratch cycle.

Your skin has 3 layers.

In healthy skin, the tough outer layer called the epidermis keeps foreign substances such as bacteria, viruses, and allergens from getting in.

When you have atopic dermatitis, the outer layer of skin is weaker and more susceptible to inflammation caused by immune cells in the body.

The damage done by scratching also contributes to the breakdown of skin cells, making it easier for foreign substances to get in.

Once these foreign substances have broken through the skin barrier, immune cells alert the body that it's under attack.

These immune cells travel to the lymph nodes, which are in the second layer of skin, called the dermis. Once in the lymph nodes, these immune cells activate your body's defenders, called T helper cells.

The immune cells release substances that cause the familiar redness and rash on the skin's surface.

Although these substances normally go away after a short time, if you have atopic dermatitis, the cells don't switch off like they should. Instead, they continue the inflammatory process, so the skin continues to react, even when your skin looks clear.

Even when you have no visible rash, the underlying inflammation is still active beneath your skin.

The itching leads to scratching, which further weakens the skin cells in the epidermis, allowing more foreign substances to get in and increases your risk of infection. And the itch-scratch cycle continues.

Atopic dermatitis occurs
equally as often in men and women.

Three percent of adults worldwide struggle with atopic dermatitis,
a chronic form of atopic eczema.

Atopic dermatitis occurs in
people of all races.

Uncover the Facts

Atopic Dermatitis is only skin-deep.

FALSE: Eczema is a broad term for a number of different skin problems. Atopic dermatitis is the most common form of eczema. Understanding the root cause of atopic dermatitis may help you discover additional ways to manage the disease and reduce the number of flare-ups.

Eczema and atopic dermatitis are the same thing.

FALSE: Atopic dermatitis is a chronic form of eczema, which, in some cases, may be severe. Most people assume their atopic dermatitis is a skin condition and that they only need to treat the obvious signs and symptoms. What they may not realize is that they have an immunological disease that originates within the body.

I only need to concentrate on preventing flare-ups of my atopic dermatitis.

FALSE: If atopic dermatitis is only addressed during a flare-up, you might not be treating some of the underlying factors that cause the flare-up in the first place.

When my skin is clear, my atopic dermatitis is gone.

FALSE: Atopic dermatitis is an ever-present disease whose symptoms are treated at the surface but whose cause — inflammation — remains underneath. So, even when skin is clear and looks rash-free, the underlying inflammation may still be active and waiting to return.

Atopic dermatitis can be triggered by allergens.

TRUE: Allergens are substances from food, plants, animals or even the air that inflame the skin by causing your immune system to overreact. Inflammation can occur even from a small amount of an irritating substance – whether it’s a dietary allergy like milk or peanuts, or an airborne substance like mold, pollen or animal dander.

Changing my diet could help my atopic dermatitis.

TRUE: There is no cure for eczema and changing your diet may not always relieve symptoms of atopic dermatitis. However, a change may be helpful when your medical history, laboratory studies, and specific symptoms strongly suggest a food allergy.

Health information contained herein is provided for general educational purposes only. Your healthcare professional is the single best source of information regarding your health. Please consult your healthcare professional if you have any questions about your health or treatment.