A common and widely defined kind of dermatitis (or skin irritation), Atopic Dermatitis is characterized by chronic dry, flaking skin, scaly skin, redness or red rash, itchiness, bumps and scabs (largely from scratching irritated areas at night). It can appear anywhere on the body, but the most commonly affected areas are: the face, inside crook of elbows, underside of knees, nipples. It's basically full-body dandruff - no serious impact on health, but extremely irritating and somewhat embarassing when its visible. It is most common on fair-skinned people, especially those who had episodes of dermatitis of any kind in infancy. It often crops up in the teen years only to gradually disappear in adulthood, but many sufferers find it to be a chronic problem that follows them throughout their life. Most people find that it comes and goes, but it is often very hard to determine the cause. Allergies, environmental irritation (such as air quality and use of soaps and fragrances), stress and climate can aggravate it - or alleviate it. A. Dermatis is a nightmare to diagnose.

The most common treatment is topical cortisone or a corticosteroid cream, sometimes with urea or aloe. This generally clears up the symptoms, but only during the treatment - it is not a cure. Also, cortisone tends to lose effectiveness gradually over time, and has many undesirable side effects - it can cause cataracts, thin your blood, cause serious heart problems, and others beside - which make it a less than perfect solution. Many people turn to homeopathy, traditional chinese medicine, naturopathy, and other solutions in alternative medicine. Some have great success, but no one treatment has been found that has success in a significant number of cases.

While it's true that atopic dermatitis itself may have "no serious impact on health," sufferers are more vulnerable to other diseases. An example is cowpox, a virus akin to smallpox that is found normally in cows, cats, rodents, and other animals. Humans can be infected with cowpox, but it usually doesn't require any treatment. A few years ago, however, there was a case of a small boy who suffered from atopic dermatitis who contracted cowpox from his pet cat, and the infection killed him. Since the smallpox vaccine is made from cowpox, people who suffer from atopic dermatitis cannot use the vaccine. In fact, they can't even be around other people who have recently been vaccinated.

A. dermatitis (or susceptibilty to it) appears to be transmitted genetically. The condition is especially common in people of Scandanavian descent. It also appears to affect men more than women. Infants who have a. dermatitis are more susceptible to skin infections such as impetigo and eczema. They have to wear all-cotton clothing, which must be washed in a non-irritating detergent such as Dreft, and they can't be bathed with soap.

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