• Reviewed on 5/15
    By Dr. Boguniewicz

Atopic Dermatitis (Eczema): Causes

Click to view larger image.The exact cause of atopic dermatitis, or eczema, is unknown, although but it typically occurs in families with atopic diseases (atopic dermatitis, asthma and allergies) pointing to a genetic component. In the past few years, mutations in the gene for filaggrin protein which is important in building a healthy skin barrier have been described in some patients with atopic dermatitis. These patients appear to have atopic dermatitis that is earlier in onset, more severe and persistent and associated with asthma and allergic sensitization. Patients can have specific or unique triggers that make their eczema flare and these include irritants, allergens, infectious agents and emotional factors.



Research suggests that atopic dermatitis and other atopic diseases are genetically determined. This means that you are more likely to have atopic dermatitis, food allergies, asthma and/or hayfever if your parents or other family members have ever had atopic dermatitis.

These diseases may develop one after another over a period of years. This is called the "atopic march". Recognizing that a person with atopic dermatitis is at a higher risk of developing one of these diseases is important for parents, patients and healthcare providers. Knowing that a child with a slight wheeze has had a history of atopic dermatitis, for example, makes it easier to diagnose the subtle onset of asthma.


Lack Certain Proteins

Recent studies have shown that some patients with atopic dermatitis lack proteins that are important for a normal skin barrier. Allergens, irritants and bacterial toxins can penetrate the abnormal skin barrier and trigger an immune response.


Risk factors

There are several risk factors for the condition that are not under a patient's control, including:

  • A family history of the disease
  • A personal history of allergic conditions, such as hay fever
  • A personal history of asthma
  • A personal history of food allergies

These conditions appear to be part of a series of immune disorders called the " atopic march." Over a period of years, a person may develop one and than another. Recognizing that a person with eczema is at a higher than normal risk of developing another of these conditions is important for parents, patients, and healthcare providers. Knowing that a patient with a slight wheeze has had a history of atopic dermatitis, for example, makes it easier to diagnose the subtle onset of asthma.

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