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Atopic dermatitis is characterized by red and itchy dry skin. Itching may start before the rash appears and sometimes can be intense. Persistent scratching of itchy skin can lead to redness, swelling, cracking, weeping of clear fluid, crusting, and scaling.

Both the type of rash and where the rash appears depend on a person's age.

  • Infants as young as 6 to 12 weeks develop a scaly rash on their face and chin. As they begin to crawl and move about, other exposed areas may be affected.
  • In childhood, the rash begins with bumps that become hard and scaly when scratched. It occurs behind the knees; inside the elbows; on the wrists, ankles, and hands; on the sides of the neck; and around the mouth. Constant licking of the lips can cause small, painful cracks in the skin.
  • In some children, the disease goes into remission for a long time, only to come back at the onset of puberty when hormones, stress, and the use of irritating skin care products or cosmetics may cause the disease to flare.
  • Some people develop atopic dermatitis for the first time as adults. The rash is more commonly seen on the insides of the knees and elbows, as well as on the neck, hands, and feet. The symptoms can be localized or widespread throughout the body.

During a severe flare-up, rashes may occur anywhere on the body.

Last Updated May 15, 2013