Atopic dermatitis, a chronic form of eczema, 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 the 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.