10 Things to Know About Adult Eczema

If you have always thought that eczema is only a skin condition of childhood, think again. Adults can have eczema too. There are some children who will continue to suffer from eczema or atopic dermatitis into their adult years.

Although there are different types of eczema, atopic dermatitis is the most common variation of eczema and the words are sometimes used interchangeably. Atopic dermatitis or atopic eczema is an extremely itchy inflammatory skin condition made worse by scratching. The skin can become red and irritated and even weep (oozing liquid) if the area becomes infected.  In the chronic stage, skin thickening (lichenification) can occur.  Atopic eczema can be a very difficult condition to deal with for both children and adults.

Here are ten quick facts about adult atopic eczema:

1.  Atopic dermatitis is a common condition affecting approximately 17 percent of the population. Approximately 40 to 60 percent of children with atopic dermatitis have the disease in adulthood.

2.  Although there have been many advances in research about atopic eczema, there currently is no cure.  Atopic eczema in adults is characterized by intermittent flares and spontaneous remissions.

3.  There can be a family history of allergy associated with atopic dermatitis. If you suffer from atopic eczema it is likely that you may also suffer from hay fever or asthma or else some of your family members may have these conditions. Physicians call hay fever, asthma and atopic dermatitis the “atopic triad.”

4.  The National Eczema Association says it is common for adults to experience having “hand eczema,” which is characterized by itchy, scaly patches of skin that flake constantly. As the condition worsens, your hands can become inflamed, cracked, and feel very painful.

5.  If you have a job where you get your hands or skin wet a lot or exposed to irritating chemicals, this can cause your eczema to worsen.

6.  Some possible environmental triggers for adult eczema include: dry heat in the house during winter, cold weather, emotional stress, wool clothing, harsh detergents, perfumed lotions or soaps, sweating a lot, and pollen.

7.  For some people food allergies and intolerances may play a part in worsening atopic eczema. Some of the common culprits may include: dairy, wheat (gluten products), and soybeans. If you suspect that you have a food allergy or intolerance it is wise to get a referral to an allergist.

8.  Some lifestyle changes which may help adult atopic eczema include: limit the time spent in baths or showers, use lukewarm water instead of hot water, limit your stress, protect your skin from becoming overly dry, and avoid harsh soaps and detergents.  Medications may also be used such as corticosteroids ranging from mild cortisone creams one can buy over-the-counter to more potent medications prescribed by your doctor. For a list of medications offered to treat adult eczema listed by potency see the Eczema Information page. Other medications used include antibiotics, antihistamines, and a new family of topical medications called topical calcineurin inhibitors (TCIs), which work to inhibit the skin’s inflammatory response. Ask your doctor about the risks of using a TCI as it can suppress the skin’s immune system.

9.  A picture is worth a thousand words. To see what adult atopic eczema can look like, a site called Dermnet.com has a “Skin Disease Image Atlas” to show you.

10.  If you suspect that you have eczema see your doctor or dermatologist to learn how to treat it effectively. The American Academy of Dermatologists has a web page where you can enter your zip code to find a certified dermatologist in your area.