Atopic eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis, is a frequent, highly pruritic, chronic skin disease, which is typically running in flares. The traditional treatment mainly consists of the reactive application of topical anti-inflammatory agents such as topical corticosteroids and topical calcineurin inhibitors. The short term benefit of this approach is well known, but long term remission between flares is difficult to achieve. Therefore, innovative long-term treatment strategies targeting flare prevention and skin barrier stabilization are needed. We and others have shown that normal looking, non-lesional skin of atopic dermatitis patients is immunobiologially not normal but characterized by an invisible inflammation and barrier defect. This has led to the novel concept of proactive therapy, which is defined as long-term, low-dose intermittent application of anti-inflammatory therapy to the previously affected skin, together with an ongoing emollient treatment of unaffected skin. This review article describes the most important long-term treatment options for atopic dermatitis, which includes emollient therapy, the novel concept of proactive treatment, the different ultraviolet light modalities and a selection of systemic immunosuppressive drugs and biologics. Current trial data, licensed indications, off-label use and relevant side effects of the different treatment modalities are summarized.
Keywords: Atopic eczema, Emollients, Flare prevention, Proactive treatment, Topical calcineurin inhibitors, Topical corticosteroids