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Treatment of patients with atopic dermatitis using wet-wrap dressings with diluted steroids and/or emollients. An expert panel's opinion and review of the literature.

BACKGROUND: The use of dampened bandages to reduce inflamed eczema (synonyme dermatitis) is an old remedy. In order to evaluate the current indications for so-called wet-wrap treatment (WWT) for atopic dermatitis (AD), and to compare the different currently recognized methods, a group of experts critically reviewed their own expertise on WWT in respect to the existing literature on the subject.

RESULTS: WWT is well tolerated in eczema due to the cooling effect on the skin and the rapid improvement in skin inflammation. It has been shown to be an extremely effective treatment for acute erythrodermic dermatitis, therapy-resistant AD and intolerable pruritus. Advantages of WWT include rapid response to therapy, reduction in itch and sleep disturbance, and potential for reduction in usage of topical corticosteroids (TCS). However, disadvantages include high cost, the necessity for special training in usage, potential for increased TCS absorption, increased cutaneous infections and folliculitis, and poor tolerability. Precautions to reduce the risks of long-term treatment should include education, monitoring of weight and height and, if necessary, serum cortisol levels. In adolescents the risk of striae from TCS absorption around puberty is high, and WWT with TCS in this age group should be used as a short-term therapy only and with extreme caution. To reduce risks, dilutions of steroids may be used ranging from 5 to 10%. In the maintenance phase this treatment can be rotated with the use of emollients only. Low potency TCS should be used on the face (with a mask).

CONCLUSION: WWT using diluted steroids is a relatively safe addition to the therapeutic treatment options for children and adults with severe and/or refractory AD. Explanation and education is extremely important in the treatment of AD and WWT should only be employed by practitioners trained in its use. Specialized nursing care is essential, especially when using WWT for prolonged periods.

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