Is Atopic Dermatitis the Same as Eczema? Your Guide

Medically Reviewed By Raechele Cochran Gathers, MD
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Eczema, or dermatitis, is an umbrella term for inflammatory conditions that cause dry, itchy skin. Atopic dermatitis is the most common type of eczema. It occurs when a trigger such as an allergen causes an immune response that damages the skin barrier. This article takes a closer look at the types of eczema, with a focus on atopic dermatitis. It looks at symptoms, causes, treatment options, when to contact a doctor, and more.

What are the types of eczema?

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Eczema affects more than 31 million people in the United States, according to the National Eczema Association.

There are seven main types of eczema:

  • atopic dermatitis
  • contact dermatitis
  • dyshidrotic eczema
  • nummular eczema
  • seborrheic dermatitis
  • stasis dermatitis

Atopic dermatitis

Atopic dermatitis, or atopic eczema, is the most common type of eczema. About 7.3% of adults in the United States have atopic dermatitis.

“Atopic” means an allergen sensitivity. This means that atopic dermatitis typically occurs after exposure to an allergen triggers an inflammatory response. This inflammation can harm the skin barrier, causing symptoms of eczema.

Learn more about atopic dermatitis.

Contact dermatitis

There are two types of contact dermatitis: irritant contact dermatitis and allergic contact dermatitis. They occur when you come into direct contact with an irritant or allergen. The skin becomes inflamed or irritated.

For example, if you are allergic to nickel, then wearing an item of jewelry that contains nickel can cause an allergic reaction. The reaction typically develops hours or days after you come into contact with the allergen.

Learn more about contact dermatitis.

Dyshidrotic eczema

Dyshidrotic eczema causes small blisters to appear on the hands and feet.

Researchers do not know exactly what causes dyshidrotic eczema. However, it often occurs alongside another type of eczema. Dyshidrotic eczema can also run in families.

Learn more about dyshidrotic eczema.

Nummular eczema

Nummular eczema, or discoid eczema, causes itchy round or oval patches on the skin. It typically occurs after something such as stress, humidity, or an injury triggers it.

Nummular eczema tends to affect extremely dry skin, and often occurs alongside another type of eczema.

Learn more about nummular eczema.

Seborrheic dermatitis

Seborrheic dermatitis refers to eczema that affects the scalp. It causes an itchy rash and dandruff on and around the scalp.

Seborrheic dermatitis may also affect other areas of the body containing more oil-producing glands. These include the upper back and nose.

Learn more about seborrheic dermatitis.

Stasis dermatitis

Stasis dermatitis is a type of eczema that occurs as a result of irregular circulation in the legs. Stasis dermatitis causes itchiness and discoloration on one or both legs.

Other names for stasis dermatitis include:

  • gravitational dermatitis
  • venous eczema
  • venous stasis dermatitis

Learn more about stasis dermatitis.

What are the symptoms of eczema and atopic dermatitis?

Eczema typically causes the skin to become:

  • dry
  • itchy
  • flaky

Other symptoms can depend on the type of eczema. It may or may not be painful. Atopic dermatitis can cause symptoms such as:

  • thickened skin
  • crusty or scaly skin
  • swelling
  • small itchy spots

Eczema can also cause blistering, rash, and discoloration. The symptoms you experience can help your doctor or dermatologist determine the type of eczema.

The area of the body where symptoms occur can vary. Atopic dermatitis often affects the creases of the elbows or the knees. However, it can occur anywhere on the body.

Some types of eczema can affect the whole body. Irritant contact dermatitis typically affects the part of the body that has come into contact with the irritant, such as the hands or face. Stasis dermatitis affects the legs.

Learn about symptoms never to ignore with eczema.

What causes eczema and atopic dermatitis?

Most types of eczema occur when something triggers it.

Common triggers of atopic dermatitis include:

  • irritants such as soap, detergents, and bubble bath
  • allergens such as dust mites, pet fur, mold, and pollen
  • food allergies such as eggs, peanuts, wheat, or cow’s milk
  • skin infections
  • hormonal changes associated with menstruation or pregnancy

There are many possible irritants and allergens that can cause atopic dermatitis or contact dermatitis. Your doctor will work with you to identify the cause of your eczema and advise you on treatments.

What are the treatments for eczema and atopic dermatitis?

Treatments for eczema depend on the type of eczema. Your doctor may prescribe medications including:

  • emollients or moisturizers
  • topical corticosteroids
  • antihistamines
  • calcineurin inhibitors
  • dupilumab
  • topical ruxolitinib
  • phototherapy

Avoiding known allergens or irritants can help you manage symptoms of atopic dermatitis or contact dermatitis. In addition, your doctor may recommend self-care tips and home remedies such as:

  • bathing in warm rather than hot water
  • gently patting skin dry after washing rather than rubbing it
  • applying moisturizer after drying skin to keep it hydrated
  • keeping fingernails short to prevent breaking the skin if you scratch
  • wearing gloves when possible to avoid scratching
  • using a sensitive skin laundry detergent and avoiding scented fabric softener or dryer sheets, which can irritate skin
  • wearing clothes without tags, which can cause irritation

Learn more about treating and managing eczema.

When should I see a doctor?

Contact your doctor or dermatologist as soon as you have concerns about eczema.

They will examine you and carry out tests to identify the type of eczema. They will recommend treatments to help you manage the condition and alleviate symptoms.

This eczema appointment guide can help you prepare for your appointment.

How do doctors diagnose eczema and atopic dermatitis?

To assist with diagnosing eczema, your doctor may begin with a physical examination and ask about your symptoms. They may take a full personal and family medical history, as some types of eczema run in families.

Your doctor may then carry out tests to confirm the diagnosis or rule out other possible causes. Tests can include a skin biopsy, which involves removing a small sample of the affected area for laboratory analysis.

Your doctor may also perform an allergy patch test or prick test. These tests can identify allergens or irritants that may be causing your symptoms.

Your doctor can explain any tests they recommend and answer questions you may have.


Atopic dermatitis is the most common type of eczema. Other types of eczema include seborrheic dermatitis, contact dermatitis, dyshidrotic eczema, nummular eczema, and stasis dermatitis.

Eczema typically causes dry, itchy, and flaky skin. The rash or lesions may also be painful.

There are things you can do at home to reduce symptoms of eczema. These include bathing in warm water and applying moisturizing creams after washing. Your doctor may recommend medical treatments such as topical corticosteroids or antihistamines.

Contact your doctor or dermatologist as soon as you have concerns about eczema. After diagnosis, they will advise you on treatments and home remedies to help you manage the condition.

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Medical Reviewer: Raechele Cochran Gathers, MD
Last Review Date: 2023 Feb 27
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
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