Management of difficult-to-treat atopic dermatitis

J Allergy Clin Immunol Pract. 2013 Mar;1(2):142-51. doi: 10.1016/j.jaip.2012.09.002. Epub 2012 Dec 14.


Atopic dermatitis is a complex disorder caused by the interplay between multiple genetic and environmental factors. Particularly in patients with severe disease, the effect is not just an itchy rash but also the secondary effects on the psychological well-being of the patient and their carers, particularly disturbed sleep. The aim of this review is to provide health care professionals with a holistic approach to the management of difficult-to-treat atopic dermatitis, defined as atopic dermatitis seemingly unresponsive to simple moisturizers and mild potency (classes VI and VII) topical corticosteroids. The critical importance of education and advice is emphasized, as is the seminal role of secondary bacterial infection and polyclonal T-cell activation in causing acute flares in patients with severe, generalized disease. In atypical cases or those that do not respond to treatment, alternative diagnoses should be considered.

Keywords: Atopic dermatitis; Compliance; Corticosteroids; Cyclosporine; Eczema; Review; Tacrolimus.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adrenal Cortex Hormones / administration & dosage
  • Dermatitis, Atopic / drug therapy*
  • Drug Hypersensitivity
  • Food Hypersensitivity / complications
  • Humans
  • Immunosuppressive Agents / therapeutic use
  • Medication Adherence
  • Patient Education as Topic


  • Adrenal Cortex Hormones
  • Immunosuppressive Agents