Background: Atopic dermatitis is a common problem for which topical agents are the primary treatment. When topical medications fail, further therapy may include systemic agents with the potential for greater toxicity. Adherence to topical treatment of atopic dermatitis has not been well characterized. Poor adherence to topical medication could account for failure of topical therapy. Purpose: To determine adherence to topical treatment in patients with atopic dermatitis. Methods: Thirty-seven children were given 0.1% triamcinolone ointment and were counseled to use it twice daily. They were told to return in 4 weeks, at which time they were told to continue treatment for another 4 weeks. Electronic monitors were used to measure adherence over the entire 8 week study. Patients were not informed of the compliance monitoring until the end of the study. Results: Twenty-six patients completed 8 weeks of treatment. Mean adherence from the baseline to the end of the study was 32%. Adherence was higher on or near office visit days and subsequently decreased rapidly. Limitations: This study was limited by the large number of subjects who failed to return for follow-up appointments or withdrew from the study. Conclusions: Adherence to topical medications is very poor in a clinic population of children with atopic dermatitis. Office visits are one means to increase adherence. If adherence to topical treatment can be improved, exposure to more costly and potentially toxic systemic agents may be avoidable.
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