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What Causes Atopic Dermatitis in Adults?

What Causes Atopic Dermatitis in Adults?

You may have had problems with itchy, scaly skin from atopic dermatitis since you were a child, or you may have developed the problem as an adult, though that’s less common. We can’t cure atopic dermatitis, but we can help you manage your condition. 

You probably want to know what caused your dermatitis and what to do so that you’re not scratching your skin until it’s raw. That’s where we come in.

At Seacoast Dermatology, our board-certified dermatologists see many patients with atopic dermatitis. It’s the most common form of eczema, a disease that causes skin inflammation. 

Atopic dermatitis symptoms 

Atopic dermatitis flare-ups can occur anywhere on your body, but are very common in the folds of your skin where it creases, such as the inside of your elbows and knees. It also frequently appears on the hands, ankles, feet, and neck. 

Your skin will be itchy, red, and inflamed. If you scratch too much and too deeply, you can get a serious bacterial infection. Other signs of the condition include a ridge of skin or darker skin under your eyes.

Causes of atopic dermatitis

Researchers aren’t yet sure exactly what causes this condition. Following are potential triggers.

Problems with the immune system 

If you have atopic dermatitis, your body’s immune system may overreact, resulting in inflammation. Scientists think that the inflammation stimulates the itchy sensation, so you scratch yourself. 


Scientists have found that gene mutations can make your skin unable to activate the protective barrier that keeps moisture in. Your body may not make enough of the protein that forms the barrier. 

Researchers know that if others in your family have had atopic dermatitis, you’re more likely to have it. 

Environmental factors 

Environmental pollution, tobacco smoke, and allergens such as pollen could inactivate the barrier on your skin keeping moisture in. If you have allergies to foods or the environment, they can cause a flare-up. 

Food allergies, asthma and hay fever are considered comorbidities of atopic dermatitis. Almost one-third of people with atopic dermatitis have specific food allergies. Common foods that can trigger atopic dermatitis include peanuts, tree nuts, eggs, soy, cow’s milk, wheat, shellfish, and seafood. 

Atopic dermatitis treatment 

We have a variety of ways to treat your atopic dermatitis and help control it. From topical creams to oral steroids, antibiotics, light therapy, antivirals, antifungals, or new injectable medication, we can find a treatment that works for you. 

Call us at Seacoast Dermatology for an appointment at one of our convenient locations, in Portsmouth, Exeter, or Dover, New Hampshire.

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