Atopic Dermatitis vs Eczema: What’s the Difference?

June 27, 2019

What is the Difference?

Atopic dermatitis and eczema are words that are often used interchangeably.  It can be perplexing to think that although there are some similarities between the two conditions, they are different. To start, let’s look at the two individually.

Atopic Dermatitis

Atopic dermatitis is defined by itchy, red rashes that typically appear on the joint areas of the body like elbows, knees, and even the neck. Symptoms can include flaky or scaly patches, dry skin, itching, and sores that may weep. Symptoms appear in “flare ups” and can improve or worsen over time.


Eczema is the name of a group of skin conditions that are characterized by itchy and inflamed patches of skin. It is often seen in babies and young children, first appearing on their faces, but it can affect anyone at any age.

Eczema is classified into different types.  Some of the most common, along with their symptoms, include:

  • Atopic Dermatitis – Flaky or scaly patches, dry skin, itching, and sores that may weep
  • Contact Dermatitis – Red rash, itching, burning, stinging, and blisters with liquid
  • Seborrheic Dermatitis – Scaly patches, dandruff, red skin, and rashes located in oily areas

The Answer

Once you see the words separated, it’s easy to see why both words are being used interchangeably. Simply put, atopic dermatitis is a form of eczema. If you take away the “atopic” part, we are left with dermatitis. Dermatitis and eczema both are inflammations of the skin, so these two are essentially one and the same.

The prefix “atopic” means that “there is typically a genetic tendency toward allergic disease,” according to The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. The “atopic” part classifies the dermatitis into a category of eczema.

No matter which term you use, it’s not entirely wrong. Eczema and atopic dermatitis are used in the same context so often, most people never know the difference. Now that you do know the differences, you can begin to use the correct terms, and even help others who are not sure!

At ActivMed, we are committed to not only working with patients to find current treatments that will deliver the most impactful results, but also working to develop new treatment options through clinical studies.

If you or someone you love is struggling with atopic dermatitis, ActivMed currently has enrolling studies for those seeking new treatment options. Qualified candidates who participate will receive study-related care at no cost.  There is also compensation for travel. To learn more and see how you or someone you love may qualify for a study, please click HERE.



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