From the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology patient tips:
Also see: Allergic Contact Dermatitis
A common allergic reaction often affecting the face, elbows and knees is atopic dermatitis, also known as eczema. This red, scaly, itchy rash is usually seen in young infants, but can occur later in life in individuals with personal or family histories of atopy, meaning asthma or allergic rhinitis (“hay fever”). Eczema may at times ooze, or at times may look very dry. A physician will rarely have difficulty diagnosing atopic dermatitis, based on three factors: an 1) itchy, 2) “eczematous” or bubbly rash in an 3) atopic individual. If one of these three features is missing, your physician should consider other causes.
Identifying the cause of the itch is essential in managing symptoms. Common triggers include overheating or sweating, and contact with irritants such as wool, pets or soaps. In older individuals, emotional stress can cause a flare-up. For some patients, usually children, food can also trigger eczema. Secondary staph infections also can cause a flare-up in children. These patients usually have very dry skin and “allergic shiners”-an extra crease, called a Dennie’s line, across their lower eyelids. They are also more susceptible to other skin infections.
Preventing the eczema itch is the primary goal of treatment. The patient must stop scratching and rubbing the rash. Applying cold compresses is helpful, and lubricating the dry skin with cream or ointment, especially during dry seasons, is essential. Patients should remove all “irritants” that aggravate the condition from their environments. If a food is identified as the culprit, it must be eliminated from the diet.
* Addendum: Recent studies have shown that patients with eczema lack a lipid known as ceramide in their skin and treatment with ceramide containing moisturizers helps heal eczema and dry skin faster.
Topical corticosteroid cream medications are most effective in treating the rash once all preventative measures are taken. Rarely, antihistamines or oral corticosteroids are also prescribed, and if a secondary infection has been introduced by scratching, antibiotics are required.
When to see an allergy/asthma specialist
Whenever you have an unusual rash, make sure to contact your allergist, who will work with you to determine its cause-whether allergies, irritants, or another trigger. Most importantly, your physician and other health care providers can offer a support system and assist you in managing your skin condition.
The AAAAI’s How the Allergist/Immunologist Can Help: Consultation and Referral Guidelines Citing the Evidence provide information to assist patients and health care professionals in determining when a patient may need consultation or ongoing specialty care by the allergist/immunologist. Patients should see an allergist/immunologist if they:
Need to confirm the diagnosis of atopic dermatitis or contact dermatitis in a patient with dermatitis.
Need to identify the origin of contact dermatitis.
Have atopic dermatitis that responds poorly to treatment.
Need to identify the role of mite allergy in patients with atopic dermatitis.
Need to identify the role of food allergy in patients with atopic dermatitis.
Your allergist/immunologist can provide you with more information on allergic skin conditions.