Adult eczema rates are greater than previously thought, but the frequency and characteristics of adult onset disease remain controversial. Atopic dermatitis or eczema is the leading cause of skin related disability, but most studies focus only on children. Eczema is common in adults, but it is not known whether the higher rates are from new onset disease or due to increasing persistence of disease from childhood. Atopic eczema is known to wax and wane over time. Studies have shown to affect between 13% to 60% of adults.
A recent retrospective study demonstrated that adult onset eczema is common and may have different characteristics and risk factors than childhood-onset eczema, with the following findings:
- Among adults who reported active atopic eczema in a given year, only 38% reported having eczema as a child.
- When compared with patients with childhood eczema, those with adult atopic eczema were more likely to be women of a lower childhood socioeconomic group, more likely to be smokers in adulthood and less likely to have a history of asthma.
- Child onset eczema patients were found to have higher rates of Filaggrin-null mutations and allergen-specific IgE compared to adult eczema patients.
Based on this study, it seems that adult eczema has different characteristics than childhood eczema. Adult eczema presents less likely with other atopic diseases including asthma and allergic rhinitis. Most adult eczema is in fact not atopic.
More research will be needed on adult atopic eczema as it seems to have different characteristics as childhood eczema. Currently the treatment may be the same, but the causes may be different. In the following articles we describe the treatment of eczema mostly in children, but with the rising prevalence of adult dermatitis, different treatments may be warranted.