7 Questions to Ask Your Doctor About Atopic Dermatitis

7 Questions to Ask Your Doctor About Atopic Dermatitis

Triggers, potential food allergies, stress, itch and other topics to discuss with your healthcare provider.

An estimated 27 million adults and children in the United States have atopic dermatitis, the most common form of eczema. Symptoms of atopic dermatitis include red, dry, itchy skin that can be flaky or scaly in appearance. Symptoms can range from mild to severe, and may improve for periods of time before flaring up and getting worse.

The exact cause of atopic dermatitis is unknown, and there is no cure. However, there are a number of treatments available that can help ease and control symptoms. Because atopic dermatitis affects each person a little differently, treatment is typically individualized and it may take some time to understand what triggers symptoms, what eases symptoms and what treatments are effective. If you are diagnosed with atopic dermatitis, it is important to work with a healthcare provider who understands atopic dermatitis, as well as your needs as a patient.

The following are some topics you may want to discuss with a healthcare provider.

Ask about triggers
A trigger is a factor that causes a flare up or exacerbates symptoms. There are a number of known triggers for atopic dermatitis, including hot and cold temperatures (especially dry, low-humidity environments), mental stress and exposure to certain substances, such as harsh soaps, household cleaners, cigarette smoke and scratchy fabrics like wool. Some patients keep journals, documenting their symptoms and daily activities, which can be helpful in identifying potential triggers.

Ask about food allergies
While they are two different conditions, research shows that some patients with atopic dermatitis also have food allergies, and that food allergies may make atopic dermatitis symptoms worse, especially in young children. The relationship between the two conditions is not well understood, and healthcare experts are not sure how common food allergies are among patients with atopic dermatitis patients. However, if you suspect you have a sensitivity to a particular food, it’s worth discussing it with your healthcare provider. Your healthcare provider may recommend allergy testing. Do not start an elimination diet or eliminate foods from your child’s diet unless directed to by a healthcare provider.

Discuss your treatment plan
When you meet with your dermatologist, it is important to discuss how your current treatment plan is working and if your symptoms are under control. Treatment for atopic dermatitis is typically a combination of avoiding triggers and using topical moisturizers, as well as medications. And there are a number of treatments available. If your current treatment plan doesn’t seem to be working for you, ask what other options are available.

Ask about managing stress
Stress can trigger and exacerbate atopic dermatitis symptoms, and the condition itself can be stressful to manage. If you are experiencing stress or anxiety, discuss these feelings with your healthcare provider, and discuss ways to manage stress and activities that may help lower stress. Lowering stress is an important part of overall health.

Ask about managing itch
Itching can be the most frustrating symptom of atopic dermatitis, and one that has a severe impact on a person’s quality of life. The itch/scratch cycle can increase mental stress, cause social embarrassment and interrupt sleep, since itching tends to worsen at night. If itching is interfering with your quality of life, talk to your dermatologist about ways to combat itch.

Ask how to care for skin that breaks or bleeds
Scratching or rubbing itchy skin causes additional damage to dry skin, may cause the skin to break or bleed and can introduce bacteria into the skin, leading to an infection. Speak to your dermatologist about how to care for damaged skin in order to avoid infection.

Ask about exercise
Atopic dermatitis can make exercise a challenge. Sweat, overheating, exposure to hot or cold temperature outsides, dry air at an indoor gym and the synthetic materials that most athletic clothing are made from can all aggravate symptoms. Still, exercise remains a key component of overall health, important to maintaining a healthy weight, reducing stress and maintaining mobility and strength as you age. Ask your healthcare provider for keeping symptoms under control during exercise and any activities you may want to avoid.

Medically reviewed in February 2020.

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