Arrow to expande the menu options
Parent holding their newborn baby's feet

What is atopic dermatitis? Support for parents

10 mins


Learn more about atopic dermatitis, a common type of eczema, and find out ways to soothe affected areas on the skin

Atopic dermatitis can cast a shadow on young people, impacting their emotional well-being and self-esteem.

As parents and carers, understanding the condition and its holistic impact can help foster a caring and empathetic environment, making a world of difference in your children’s lives.

In this article, we’ll explore what atopic dermatitis is, the symptoms, recommended treatments, and how to support those suffering from the condition.

What is atopic dermatitis?

Atopic dermatitis is a persistent skin condition that causes itchy, dry, and cracked skin.

It usually develops before a baby’s first birthday but can happen at any time, with the condition sometimes appearing for the first time in adults. The condition is typically long-term (chronic) but, in some cases, can improve or clear as children grow older.

Many people experience atopic dermatitis as more than just a skin issue. The physical symptoms come with emotional struggles that can be equally demanding.

Studies have shown that those dealing with atopic dermatitis are more susceptible to feelings of embarrassment, frustration, and low self-confidence due to the appearance of their skin. The emotional toll of this condition can lead to disrupted sleep and negative emotional feelings, impacting their overall quality of life.

Common atopic dermatitis causes

Genetic, environmental, immunological, and skin barrier factors can cause atopic dermatitis. People with the condition often experience dry skin because their skin struggles to retain moisture, making it more susceptible to triggers.

Genetics plays a significant role, as some babies inherit a higher likelihood of developing atopic dermatitis from their parents. Research shows that children with parents or siblings affected by atopic dermatitis have an increased risk of developing it themselves. It’s important to note that atopic dermatitis is not contagious and cannot spread through contact.

When it comes to triggers, various factors can cause someone’s symptoms to flare up. These differ for each person, and it’s important to recognise that the condition is unique to each individual.

Common triggers people experience are:

  • Environmental factors: Including things like certain fabrics, dust mites, weather changes, pollen, and mould.

  • Irritants: Such as soaps, detergents, bubble baths, scents, shampoo, materials and fragrances.

  • Food allergens: Allergies to foods such as eggs, nuts, soya, dairy, acidic fruits, or wheat.

  • Skin infections: Bacterial, viral, and fungal skin infections can lead to flare-ups or the condition to deteriorate.

  • Hormones: Hormonal changes can impact the skin’s sensitivity and reactivity. Hormonal events such as puberty, periods, pregnancy, and menopause can worsen symptoms.

This isn’t a complete list, and triggers can change for individuals.

Parents and carers can empower and support their children through the condition by tracking triggers and reducing discomfort.

Atopic dermatitis symptoms

A boy with atopic dermatitis

Atopic dermatitis can present differently in people, but the main symptoms cause skin to become itchy, cracked, dry, and sore. Symptoms vary in severity and fluctuate depending on the individual.

For example, when someone is in a “flare-up” period, they could suffer from intense symptoms, which could affect their mental well-being. During severe flare-ups, there is also a risk of infection.

Signs of an infection include:

  • fluid, puss, or discharge oozing from the area

  • swollen, sore, or puffy skin

  • feeling hot and presenting an elevated temperature

  • yellow crusts on the skin or small yellowish-white spots in the affected areas

Although atopic dermatitis can occur all over the body, in adults, it is most prevalent on the hands. In children, atopic dermatitis is common in the insides of elbows, back of the knees, face, and scalp.

It can also impact the outside of the elbows and front of the knees of children with brown and black skin. These children may also get round eczema patches on their skin and where hair grows.

Intense periods of scratching can impact sleep, leading to difficulty concentrating throughout the day, often resulting in a cycle of regular scratching. It’s essential to be empathetic to those suffering from the condition and provide soothing support where possible.

Atopic dermatitis vs. eczema

It’s easy to become confused when you hear about atopic dermatitis and atopic eczema. Both dermatitis and eczema refer to inflammation of the skin. Eczema is a broader umbrella term that describes a group of conditions. Atopic dermatitis is one of the most common types of eczema.

Knowing when to seek professional help

If you notice persistent symptoms such as severe itching, redness, or skin cracking that disrupts sleep, daily activities, or quality of life, it’s time to consult a healthcare professional. If the skin shows signs of infection, seeking immediate medical attention is important to avoid complications.

If you’re unsure about the symptoms you’re noticing or the most appropriate treatment, reaching out for professional help is the safest option. This can guarantee an accurate diagnosis and a customised treatment plan for your or your loved one’s needs.

Professional guidance provides you with:

  • reassurance

  • accurate information and practical strategies to support your child’s skin health

  • the tools needed to create a more comfortable and improved quality of life for them

Understanding the emotional impact of atopic dermatitis

Imagine an itchiness that just won’t stop, with self-consciousness accompanying visible patches and an unease of repeatedly explaining a condition. These are all factors contributing to the psychological effects of atopic dermatitis.

Living with atopic dermatitis can significantly impact the emotional well-being of children and teens. The persistent itching, discomfort, and visible skin changes can lead to feelings of frustration, embarrassment, and low self-esteem.

It’s tough for young people to cope with the relentless cycle of flare-ups, especially when it affects their appearance or interferes with daily activities. They may feel self-conscious about their skin, leading to social anxiety or reluctance to participate in activities.

How to support a child or teen with atopic dermatitis

It’s crucial to provide a supportive environment for those suffering from atopic dermatitis and to acknowledge struggles while offering empathy and reassurance.

Encouraging open conversations and seeking professional guidance can help young people navigate emotional challenges while managing the physical aspects of the condition.

Here are some ways to support a child or teen with atopic dermatitis.

Create a safe space

Let your child know their feelings are valid. Be a listening ear and encourage them to express their emotions openly. Creating an open dialogue helps them feel understood and less alone.

You could even partner with schools to meet your child’s needs. Educate teachers and peers about atopic dermatitis to foster understanding and acceptance.

Educate and empower

Teach your child about atopic dermatitis in a way that empowers them. Help them understand that the condition is not their fault and that they have the ability to manage it effectively.

Living with atopic dermatitis can be challenging, but it doesn’t define your child. You’re nurturing their physical and emotional well-being by acknowledging their emotional journey, offering unwavering support, and getting expert guidance.

Establish skincare routines

Establish skincare routines to aid in skin health and reduce flare ups associated with atopic dermatitis.

WaterWipes®, endorsed by the Skin Health Alliance for compatibility with premature, newborn, and sensitive skin, can help those struggling with skin conditions. These wipes cater to various age groups, aiding in the gentle cleansing needs of babies, toddlers, teens, and adults dealing with atopic dermatitis. Our formula uses pure and gentle ingredients that won’t irritate any existing skin conditions like atopic dermatitis when used for cleansing.

Practice positive reinforcement

Compliment strengths and achievements, focusing on qualities beyond appearance. This helps shift self-perception away from skin conditions.

Emphasising a child’s abilities, talents, and inner qualities cultivates confidence and resilience that goes further than the challenges of their condition.

Popular atopic dermatitis treatments

A baby with atopic dermatitis having a nap

There are treatments available to help ease the symptoms of atopic dermatitis — but there is no cure. Many children find symptoms naturally improve as they age, but this isn’t always the case.

Here are some of the most common treatments for atopic dermatitis.


Daily emollients can help skin retain moisture and prevent it from drying out. They soothe and relieve itching by adding an oily layer to the skin’s surface.

They are available in different formulations, including:

  • lotions

  • creams

  • hydrating gels

  • ointments

  • moisturisers

  • sprays

Emollients are widely preferred for treating skin conditions because they are typically fragrance-free and do not contain ‘anti-aging’ additives.

Topical corticosteroids

Topical corticosteroids are prescription-only creams and ointments that help reduce swelling and redness during a flare-up. GPs will prescribe this to support reducing inflammation in a few days.

Doctors can prescribe them in different strengths based on the seriousness of the condition and the affected skin.


Alongside prescription treatments, self-care is crucial. It encourages people with the condition to participate in their treatment actively and can support controlling symptoms.

Self-care can refer to:

  • avoiding triggers

  • reducing the damage from scratching (for example, keeping nails short and clean)

  • dietary changes

  • skincare routines.

Getting a skincare and self-care routine can be tricky for some children. For example, children on the autistic spectrum or with sensory issues might not find traditional treatment methods as effective.

Julie Van Onselen, a Dermatology Nurse Adviser to the National Eczema Society, says:

For people on the autistic spectrum or with sensory processing issues, managing eczema can be a real challenge. It is not uncommon for children and adults alike to have heightened or reduced sensitivity to sights, sounds, taste, smells, textures and touch. Adults with sensory issues have said that even a gentle touch can feel like fire or barbed wire, so it’s important to find the best solution.

Avoid triggers

When managing atopic dermatitis in children, it’s crucial to avoid triggers. This means avoiding potential irritants as much as possible.

While a GP can assist in identifying these triggers for flare-ups, it’s important to note that atopic dermatitis can occasionally worsen without a clear cause. If you’ve identified specific triggers or irritants, avoiding them can help manage the condition.

Dietary changes

Foods such as dairy, eggs, nuts, and soy often activate atopic dermatitis symptoms. It’s important to note that making substantial diet changes without consulting a GP isn’t recommended. Every child’s reaction to dietary adjustments can vary, making expert guidance crucial.

GPs often suggest consulting a dietitian to identify food allergies and develop a balanced diet plan that provides essential nutritional needs while managing symptoms effectively.

This collaborative approach addresses specific triggers and ensures a healthy diet for overall well-being.


Antihistamines ease itchiness by blocking a substance called 'histamine' in the blood. However, some types of these medicines, known as 'sedating' antihistamines, can make your child feel sleepy.

If itching affects your child’s sleep, doctors might recommend sedating antihistamines. Just be aware that these can make your child drowsy the next day. It’s essential to keep an eye on your child and inform their school or nursery about this if needed.

Down arrow

• NHS, Atopic Eczema Causes:

• NHS, Atop Eczema Symptoms:

• NHS, Atopic Eczema Complications:

• MedicalNewsToday, Are atopic dermatitis and eczema the same condition?:

• WaterWipes, Newborn baby eczema tips: How to treat baby eczema, symptoms & causes:

• NHS, Atopic Eczema Treatment:

• National Eczema Association, Eczema and Mental Health in Children:

• WaterWipes, WaterWipes awarded Skin Health Alliance accreditation,

• WaterWipes, Textured Clean Baby Wipes,

• WaterWipes, Original Baby Wipes,

• National Eczema Society, Emollients:

let's stay in touch

first name
Please enter a valid email address

I confirm that I am over 16 years old and that I have reviewed and agree to the Terms and Conditions and have reviewed the Privacy Policy.

Please tick here to confirm that you would like to receive e-mails from WaterWipes in relation to our products and any special offers or promotions which we may be running. You can withdraw your consent at any time by clicking the unsubscribe button in emails that you receive or contact us via

Please fill in the Recaptcha