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Atopic Dermatitis Is More Than a Rash: Letting Your Doctor Know What's Bothering You

Atopic Dermatitis Is More Than a Rash: Letting Your Doctor Know What's Bothering You

This article is for people who have atopic dermatitis (AD), or anyone who wants to learn more about AD. The goal of this patient education activity is to inform patients and caregivers about how to improve the management of AD by working with your doctor.

You will learn about:

  • Physical symptoms of AD

  • Emotional symptoms of AD

  • How your quality of life (QoL) can be affected

  • How to make the most of your doctor visits

  • What you need to tell your doctor

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Physical Symptoms of AD

Physical symptoms of AD can be difficult and frustrating to manage. Although not everyone has the same severity of physical symptoms, there are a few that affect everyone, such as:

  • Itch

  • Rash

  • Dry, flaky skin

Other symptoms include oozing or crusting skin, blisters, and pain. Some symptoms may be worse or better in some people. For example, itching may be more bothersome to some, while others may be more affected by blisters.

How Physical Symptoms Affect Your Emotions

The physical symptoms of AD may change how you feel. You may be embarrassed to go swimming because you don't want others to see your rash on your exposed skin. Maybe you feel upset and sad because you don't feel comfortable being intimate with your partner or spouse. Or maybe you turned down an invitation to dinner because you don't want people to see you scratching.

Emotional effects of AD include:

  • Depression

  • Anxiety

  • Reduced self confidence

These can greatly impact your quality of life (QoL).

What Is QoL and Why Is It Important?

QoL means what you think about your own health and happiness. Different people have different thoughts about what matters to them. But people with AD may find that their lives have changed.

  • Have you stopped participating in activities you love?

  • Have you stopped going out with friends?

  • Have you stopped wearing the clothes you used to like?

  • Has itching or pain interrupted your normal sleep patterns?

  • Have your symptoms gotten worse when using your medicines?

By asking yourself these questions, you can see how you have been affected by your symptoms of AD.

Can You Improve Your QoL?

Absolutely. You need to determine what symptoms are most bothersome to you, such as:

  • Is it itching?

  • Is it your appearance?

  • Is it depression or lack of confidence?

  • Is it lack of sleep?

Once you determine what is important to you, you can begin a conversation with your doctor to try to fix that issue.

Is Your Treatment Working for YOU?

Treatment is important. But you need to think about whether your treatment is improving the symptoms that matter most to you.

Maybe you really dislike it when your skin is dry and flaky. Is your treatment solving that issue?

Or maybe your itch is so severe that it's difficult to get a good night's sleep, and you're tired. That needs to be addressed. You need good rest to do your daily activities, like work, school, and being with family and friends.

Your treatment needs to improve the symptoms that are causing you the most trouble.

Are You Using Your Treatment as Directed?

It's important to use your treatment as directed. If you aren't, that may be 1 reason why you aren't having any relief from symptoms.

Sometimes you may not follow your treatment plan. Maybe you don't like the way an ointment or lotion feels on your skin; or wet wraps or visits for phototherapy take too much time or effort; or you ask yourself: "It's not working, so why bother?"

Your doctor needs to know whether you are following your plan. And if not, why not?

The Importance of Talking to Your Doctor

Your doctor may not know or understand how your AD is affecting you or how you feel about your treatment. You need to think about your:

  • Physical symptoms

  • Emotional symptoms

  • Ability to sleep

  • QoL

  • Satisfaction with treatment and if you are taking it as directed (adherent)

Do you want to make a change? Is something really bothering you?

Once you have identified the issue, you need to have an honest conversation with your doctor. Make sure you know what you want to say before your next visit. Write it down and bring your 'cheat sheet' with you.

What Your Doctor Needs to Know

Your doctor can't help you if they don't know how you're feeling.

Make sure you tell your doctor if: 

  • You're getting enough sleep

  • Your work or school performance is suffering

  • Any personal (spouse, partner, child) or professional (boss or coworker) relationship is suffering

  • You're feeling depressed, anxious, or self-conscious

  • You're embarrassed by your appearance

  • Your treatment isn't working or isn't addressing the symptom that is important to you

  • You don't like your current treatment plan and would like to try something else

  • You can't take your treatment as directed (be adherent)

You are your own best advocate. Make sure you speak up.

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You have successfully completed the program: Atopic Dermatitis Is More Than a Rash: Letting Your Doctor Know What's Bothering You

View Additional Materials on this topic that you may find useful:

Understanding Eczema

What Causes Eczema?

Is There a Cure for Eczema?

Authors and Disclosures

Clinician Reviewer

Susan L. Smith, MN, PhD

Senior Director, Learning & Development, Medscape, LLC

Disclosure: Susan L. Smith, MN, PhD, has disclosed no relevant financial relationships.


Heather Lewin, MAT

Director, Medscape, LLC

Disclosure: Heather Lewin, MAT, has disclosed no relevant financial relationships.


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