Atopic eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis, is the most common form of eczema. It mainly affects children, but can continue into adulthood.

Eczema is a condition that causes the skin to become itchy, red, dry and cracked. It is a long-term, or chronic, condition.

Atopic eczema commonly occurs in areas with folds of skin, such as:

  • behind the knees
  • the inside of the elbows
  • on the side of the neck
  • around the eyes and ears

Atopic eczema can vary in severity and most people are only mildly affected. Severe symptoms include cracked, sore and bleeding skin.

People with atopic eczema usually have periods when symptoms are less noticeable, as well as flare-ups when symptoms become more severe, needing additional treatment.

Read more about the symptoms of atopic eczema.

What causes atopic eczema?

The exact cause of atopic eczema is unknown. However, it often occurs in people who get allergies ("atopic" means sensitivity to allergens).

Atopic eczema can run in families and often occurs alongside other conditions, such as asthma and hay fever.

Read more information about the causes of atopic eczema.

Treating atopic eczema 

Atopic eczema clears up or significantly improves in many children as they get older. In about 53% of cases, atopic eczema clears up by the time a child reaches 11 years of age, and in 65% of cases it clears up by 16 years of age.

However, severe eczema often has a significant impact on daily life and may be difficult to cope with physically and mentally. There is also an increased risk of infections. 

Read more about complications of atopic eczema.

Many different types of treatment can be used to control symptoms and manage eczema, including medication and self-help techniques. 

The main treatments are:

Read more about How atopic eczema is treated.

Who is affected?

About one in five children in the UK has eczema. In 8 out of 10 cases, atopic eczema occurs before a child reaches five years of age. Many children develop it before their first birthday.

The number of people diagnosed with atopic eczema has increased in recent years. This could be because of changes in lifestyle or environmental factors that cause eczema, or because healthcare professionals are now more aware of the symptoms.

Males and females are affected equally.

Eczema: Ruby's story

Ruby was diagnosed with eczema when she was six weeks old. Her mum, Daniella, explains how they cope with Ruby's condition.

Media last reviewed: 10/01/2013

Next review due: 10/01/2015

Other types of eczema

Other types of eczema include:

  • circular or oval patches of eczema that usually affect adults (discoid eczema
  • eczema that occurs when the body comes into contact with a particular substance (contact dermatitis)
  • eczema that occurs on the legs, usually around swollen and enlarged veins (varicose eczema
  • red, scaly patches that can occur on the sides of the nose, eyebrows, ears and scalp (seborrhoeic eczema)
  • eczema that causes tiny blisters to erupt across the palms of the hands (dyshidrotic eczema, also known as 'pompholyx')

Eczema: 7 ways to stop scratching

Eczema can be tough for a child to cope with, but parents can help reduce the impact with these tips

Page last reviewed: 21/11/2012

Next review due: 21/11/2014