Those Challenging Skin Symptoms

While atopic dermatitis (eczema) can impact more than just the skin, skin symptoms are some of the most difficult aspects of the condition to manage. A look at some of the most frequently discussed skin symptoms amongst our community members.

Itchy skin

The medical terms for itchiness is pruritus and is defined as an “unpleasant sensation that elicits the urge to scratch.” With atopic dermatitis both the symptom of itching and the scratching it provokes, significantly contribute to the burden of atopic dermatitis. The “itch-scratch cycle” (the skin feels itchy, which then leads to scratching, which then causes the skin to feel even itchier) perpetuates the disease and can feel endless for some and can impact many aspects of life.

Painful, tender and/or inflamed skin

Atopic dermatitis can cause areas of reddened, swollen and sometimes painful skin. Inflamed and tender skin may increase if someone scratches the area continuously.

Dry scaling skin or thickened skin

Chronic atopic dermatitis can cause patches of thickened skin, this thickened skin is also called lichenified skin. Lichenified skin may be darker or lighter than surrounding, unaffected skin. Skin that becomes lichenified, itches all the time.

Atopic dermatitis also causes damage to the skin barrier, which allows more water to be lost through the skin. This excess water loss can lead to dry skin (or xerosis). Xerosis is the medical term for dry skin. Xerosis from atopic dermatitis may appear dry, rough, flaky, scaly, or with cracks in the skin. In people with darker skin, xerosis may appear as ashy skin.

Cracks in the skin

For those who suffer from severe atopic dermatitis, they may experience fissures, which are deep cracks in the skin. Severe dry skin may also cause cracking in the skin as well. It is important to care for cracked and severely dry skin so that germs and bacteria cannot enter the crack and cause an infection. Cracked skin may occur more frequently during the winter months when the air tends to have less moisture.

Pink or red rash

Atopic dermatitis can sometimes cause a widespread reddening of the skin, which is called erythroderma. A scaling (peeling) of the skin and itching usually accompanies erythroderma. In patients with erythroderma, the skin appears thin and glossy. The skin is bright red, dry, scaly, and warm to the touch.

Skin bumps that weep fluid

Atopic dermatitis can cause blisters that ooze, or weepy sores. Weepy areas leak fluid, which is usually clear. This may also be called wet eczema, weepy eczema, or weeping eczema.

Burning and/or stinging skin

Atopic dermatitis damages the skin’s natural barrier, which can make it more sensitive to substances in the environment, which are called irritants because of their ability to irritate the skin. Irritants may cause burning or stinging sensations.

A small percentage of people who use topical corticosteroids develop topical steroid addiction (TSA), which is also called red burning skin syndrome (RBSS). TSA is not usually characterized by a compulsive need to use the medication, rather, the skin symptoms experienced by the individual become worse than they were before the treatment once the medication is discontinued. Symptoms of red burning skin syndrome include stinging and burning as well as redness of the skin (erythema).


Excoriations are superficial skin wounds (such as a shallow cut) that occur from unintentional intense scratching. It can be liable to infection. Excoriation is one of the complications of the itching that is part of atopic dermatitis.

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