Spongiotic dermatitis is a condition that makes the skin dry, red, itchy, and cracked. It usually involves some swelling caused by excess fluid under the skin.

Spongiotic dermatitis is closely associated with atopic dermatitis or eczema. It is a widespread condition involving inflammation of the skin and is caused by allergies.

This article will give an overview of spongiotic dermatitis, looking at the symptoms, causes, and treatments of this condition.

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Symptoms of spongiotic dermatitis may include dry and scaly skin, rashes, blisters, and severe itching.

Symptoms of spongiotic dermatitis include:

  • dry, scaly skin
  • severe itching
  • rashes, especially on the hands, inner elbows, and behind the knees
  • blisters resulting from rashes, which may produce fluids in extreme cases
  • red, inflamed skin from constant scratching

Atopic dermatitis is the most prevalent clinical cause of spongiotic dermatitis. The exact cause is unknown, but it seems to be related to a combination of genetic and environmental factors.

A recent study in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology suggests that people with this condition may have a mutation of the gene responsible for creating a protein called filaggrin. This protein helps maintain a protective barrier on the top layer of the skin.

Without enough filaggrin, the skin barrier is weakened, allowing moisture to escape and letting in more allergens and bacteria.

Atopic dermatitis tends to run in families and can occur alongside other conditions, such as asthma and hay fever.

Possible triggers include:

  • allergens, such as specific food, plants, dyes, and medication
  • irritants, such as soaps, cosmetics, latex, and certain metals in jewelry
  • increased stress levels
  • changes in hormone levels
  • dry or humid climates
  • excessive sweating, which can also worsen itching

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Children may be more likely to have spongiotic dermatitis than adults.

Risk factors for spongiotic dermatitis include:

  • Age. Atopic dermatitis is more common in children than adults, with 10 to 20 percent of children and 1 to 3 percent of adults experiencing this condition.
  • Allergies. A person prone to allergies is at a greater risk of developing spongiotic dermatitis.
  • Irritants. Prolonged contact with irritating substances, such as detergents, chemicals, or metals can trigger the condition.
  • Family history. A person with a family history of atopic dermatitis is more likely to develop spongiotic dermatitis.

A doctor or dermatologist can diagnose spongiotic dermatitis by examining the person's skin. They may also ask about specific symptoms, family history, diet, and lifestyle.

Sometimes, a doctor may recommend a biopsy to help with diagnosis. A biopsy involves taking a small sample of skin tissue and sending it to a laboratory for testing.

The doctor may also carry out a patch test. This test involves placing patches that contain common allergens on a person's back to see if they cause an allergic reaction on the skin.

During severe flare-ups, scratching an itchy rash may cause dry skin to crack, or blisters to weep, which can lead to skin infections.

Repeated scratching can also lead to a thickening of the skin, which is a process called lichenification. The thickened skin may be itchy all the time, even when the condition is not active.

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Moisturizing daily may help to treat spongiotic dermatitis.

While there is no specific cure for spongiotic dermatitis, people can treat flare-ups with medications, skin care, and lifestyle changes.

Below is a list of possible treatments for spongiotic dermatitis:

  • Moisturizing daily and washing with a moisturizer instead of soap may also help.
  • Avoiding soaps, shower gels, and detergents, as these can further irritate the skin.
  • Applying topical steroid creams to ease redness and itching. Be sure to use the appropriate or prescribed medication, because using one that is too strong may cause thinning of the skin.
  • Applying topical calcineurin inhibitors, such as tacrolimus ointments and pimecrolimus creams, to control inflammation during flare-ups. These medications block a chemical that triggers inflammation in the skin and causes redness and itching.
  • Taking antihistamines to relieve the symptoms of allergies. Newer, non-drowsy antihistamines are less likely to cause tiredness.
  • Wearing bandages, dressings, or wet wraps on top of creams to stop the ointment from rubbing off, and to prevent scratching. Wet wraps are not recommended for babies or children as they can become too cold.
  • Having ultraviolet light treatment or phototherapy. This therapy is usually not recommended for children. Natural sunlight may ease some skin disorders by reducing inflammation.
  • Taking oral steroids, such as prednisolone, can relieve symptoms during severe or widespread flare-ups. A doctor or dermatologist will need to prescribe steroids.

Some people also report that taking vitamin A or fish oil can relieve symptoms.

Ways to ease the discomfort of spongiotic dermatitis and to reduce the likelihood of future flare-ups include:

  • Following a daily skincare routine. This includes regular moisturizing and using prescribed medications or treatments.
  • Avoiding potential triggers. These may include certain foods, cosmetics, detergents, or types of animal.
  • Wearing non-rubber gloves when doing manual tasks, such as housework, to protect the hands.
  • Avoiding scratching the affected skin. Scratching can lead to further damage or infection.
  • Wearing soft, breathable materials, such as cotton. Avoid itchy fabrics, including wool.
  • Washing clothes with non-biological laundry powder. Use a double rinse cycle to get rid of detergent residues.
  • Keeping the skin cool. Overheating and sweating can make itchiness worse.
  • Treating symptoms as soon as they appear. When flare-ups become more severe, they are harder to control.

Living with spongiotic dermatitis can be a continuing challenge for those who have the condition. Over 30 million people in the United States alone have some form of atopic dermatitis.

Symptoms may clear up very quickly, or it may be a long-term condition.

This condition is not contagious, so there is no risk of catching it from someone else.

Though challenging, spongiotic dermatitis is also manageable. A treatment plan including medication, skincare, and lifestyle changes can do a lot to relieve the symptoms and to reduce the risk of future flare-ups.