The concept of atopy
Atopic dermatitis is not an allergy
The word "atopy" comes from the Greek "a" meaning "without" and "topos" meaning "place".
"Without a place", a perfect way to describe this disease, difficult to understand and to comprehend.
Atopy is a genetic predisposition to allergies, called atopic family history. A significant figure: almost 80% of children with eczema have a family history.
Atopic dermatitis is a chronic inflammatory skin disease
Atopic patients (Close to 7 million Canadians will suffer from eczema during their lifetime, up to 1 out of 4 Canadian children suffer from it) have defective skin permeability and a hyper reactive and unbalanced immune system. The skin is dry, sensitive and hyperactive.
The Filaggrin, a protein of the skin which ensures adhesion between cells of the superficial layer of the skin, is deficient. In addition, the skin lacks lipids naturally present on its surface which protect it from potential allergens.
In this context, irritants present in the environment and usually well tolerated, such as pollen, dust or certain hygiene products, can penetrate the skin and cause an eczema flare.
The disease usually appears after the age of three months (sometimes sooner) and can last, depending on the child, from a few months to several years. Without proper treatment, the vicious cycle of itching settles in: the skin barrier deteriorates more; it allows more allergens and irritants to penetrate and to cause further itching.
However, there are few cases that persist into adulthood: half of children with atopic eczema before the age of one are cured by the age of 5, even if the skin is still very dry in the following years.