Neurodermatitis (also called atopic dermatitis or atopic eczema) is a non-infectious skin condition characterised by severe itching. It often occurs together with other allergic conditions such as hay fever, asthma, nettle rash and food allergies. These conditions may occur at the same time or subsequently.
People suffering from neurodermatitis suffer from severe itching, especially at night. The skin is dry and sensitive. The eczema keeps re-occurring, together with red, scaly and sometimes even weeping skin patches. The symptoms often occur at intervals and may vary in their severity. Depending on the age of the sufferer, the condition affects various parts of the body such as face, scalp, torso, buttocks or limbs (elbows and knee joints).
Neurodermatitis is particularly common in young children. In infants, it most commonly starts on the scalp and cheeks and is also known as cradle cap. The eczema often improves by the time children start attending school and heals up entirely when they reach puberty. However, the skin often remains sensitive and tends to be dry, requiring regular care.
The cause of neurodermatitis is as yet unknown. Sufferers often have a genetic disposition. Various factors may trigger the condition, including an impaired skin barrier with an increased tendency to be dry, factors caused by different seasons of the year, allergies, infections, medication and also psychological stress. Skin irritations caused by chemicals, such as detergents or cleaning agents, certain textiles or frequent visits to the swimming pool, may aggravate the condition further.
Neurodermatitis is a chronic condition for which there is no cure at present. However, various measures can help to easy the symptoms.
- Specific triggers of the symptoms should be avoided. Clothing made from wool and synthetic materials, for instance, often exacerbate the symptoms of neurodermatitis. These materials should therefore be avoided, particularly for children. Cotton is generally well tolerated. It has also been frequently reported that certain food products, such as animal protein, wheat, fruit acid, sugar and some types of vegetables, aggravate neurodermatitis, especially in children.
- To ease the itching and prevent the skin from drying out, it is recommended to apply a gentle, daily basic care cream with refattening properties and urea. Gentle soaps or suitable bath / shower oils should be used for washing. Sufferers should only bath for short periods in warm water as baths hydrate and dry out the skin at the same time. Skin care should be applied immediately after drying off. The idea is to strengthen the skin’s barrier function and regulate its moisture content.
- Severe episodes of neurodermatitis tend to occur especially in the milder months during spring and autumn. Climate change may help to ease the condition. Climates at high altitude (above 1,000 m) or by the sea have proven suitable in this respect. Heavy perspiration should be avoided as sweat may exacerbate the symptoms.
- Stressful situations often aggravate the symptoms of neurodermatitis or trigger new episodes. The fact that persons suffering from neurodermatitis often appear to have a reduced ability to deal with stress causes an additional problem. Sufferers should learn and apply relaxation methods for better dealing with stress.
- Various medicinal therapy options for external and internal application are available today. Caring, hydrating and hypoallergenic skin ointments, creams and lotions with or without cortisone are prescribed. New medicinal products, such as so-called calcineurin inhibitors or immunomodulators, may also be used. Some sufferers showed good results from ultraviolet light therapy.