Atopic dermatitis (AD) is a chronic inflammatory skin disease posing a significant burden on health-care resources and patients' quality of life. It is a complex disease with a wide spectrum of clinical presentations and combinations of symptoms. AD affects up to 20% of children and up to 3% of adults; recent data show that its prevalence is still increasing, especially in low-income countries. First manifestations of AD usually appear early in life and often precede other allergic diseases such as asthma or allergic rhinitis. Individuals affected by AD usually have genetically determined risk factors affecting the skin barrier function or the immune system. However, genetic mutations alone might not be enough to cause clinical manifestations of AD, and it is merely the interaction of a dysfunctional epidermal barrier in genetically predisposed individuals with harmful effects of environmental agents which leads to the development of the disease. AD has been described as an allergic skin disease, but today, the contribution of allergic reactions to the initiation of AD is challenged, and it is proposed that allergy is rather a consequence of AD in subjects with a concomitant underlying atopic constitution. Treatment at best achieves symptom control rather than cure; there is thus a strong need to identify alternatives for disease prevention.
© 2015 S. Karger AG, Basel.