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Atopic Dermatitis

Q: My husband's new job required us to move to a town three states away from my family and friends. Needless to say, I've been pretty stressed. Now on top of everything else, I've developed these itchy red patches above my eyebrows. The skin looks dry and scaly, but it actually feels a little greasy, and it's impossible to cover up with makeup. It's so embarrassing! I can't even introduce myself to my new neighbors. Is there any way to clear it up fast?

Dr. Donnica:
It sounds like you may have an extremely common skin condition called atopic dermatitis or eczema. The good news is that this is easily treatable with prescription medication, although the results may take a week or two. Until then, can you wear large sunglasses as a cover-up when meeting new neighbors?

More than 15 million people in the US have eczema symptoms, so chances are, either they or someone in their family also has this condition. Your doctor may recommend either a corticosteroid cream (like Elocon ointment, 0.1%) or an immunomodulator medication (like Protopic or Elidel). While these latter medications have been shown to be effective in individuals over 2 years old, they have recently received FDA advisory warnings due to a small, potential increase in cancer risk.

Atopic dermatitis is a chronic, recurrent condition involving inflammation of the skin, usually as a result of exposure to allergens and irritants. Characterized by intense itching, the skin may become reddened, swollen, cracked, scaly, or even infected, usually as a result of scratching or rubbing. Most skin areas may be affected, but the most common are the face (including over the eyebrows), the insides of the elbows, behind the knees, hands and feet. While stress doesn't cause this condition, it can exacerbate it. Not only is moving extremely stressful, but it also involves increased exposure to allergens and irritants and a lot more time spent with cleaning products! The specific allergens and irritants responsible vary between people, but the most common irritants include: soaps and detergents, perfumes, cigarette smoke, wool or synthetic fibers, dust, chlorine and solvents.

Created: 6/25/2005  -  Donnica Moore, M.D.

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