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How Common Is Atopic Dermatitis?

Atopic dermatitis (AD) is a common, chronic inflammatory skin condition that affects children and adults worldwide. About 10 percent of people in the U.S. have some form of atopic dermatitis.1

AD is also called atopic eczema. It causes itchy, dry, scaly patches on the skin.

Who gets atopic dermatitis?

Atopic dermatitis is common but the symptoms may be quite different from one person to another. It occurs equally in males anf females. Atopic dermatitis may occur at any age, but most often begins in infancy and childhood.1

Age

  • 90 percent of all cases of AD are diagnosed in children before the age 5.1,2
  • 65 percent are diagnosed before the age of 1, often between 3 to 6 months of age.1-3
  • 16.5 million U.S. adults with AD first experienced symptoms before age 2 and nearly half have moderate to severe disease.1
  • At least 80 percent of children with AD will outgrow their disease by the time they become teens or adults.1
  • AD tends to persistent into adulthood in males, those with severe symptoms, and those who develop the disease later.3

Geography

  • AD affects up to 20 percent of children in some low-income countries, especially in Latin America.2
  • Rates of AD have increased in industrialized countries since the 1970s.3

Race, ethnicity and gender

  • 13 percent of Asian Americans and Native Americans have eczema1
  • 11 percent of white Americans have eczema1
  • 10 percent of African Americas have eczema1
  • More African American and European American children have atopic dermatitis than Hispanic children.1
  • African American and Hispanic children tend to have more severe AD than white children.1
  • Equal numbers of males and females get AD in childhood but women are more likely to have AD in adulthood than men.1

Family history

  • 70 percent of people with AD have a family history of the condition.3,4
  • Children with a family history of AD, especially if their mother has AD, are more likely to develop the condition.4

What is the cause and impact of atopic dermatitis?

Scientists do not know what causes atopic dermatitis. It seems to result from a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Some research indicates that AD is similar to an autoimmune condition. In autoimmune conditions, the immune response over-reacts, causing chronic inflammation. In the case of AD, this inflammation affects the skin.

  • While the exact cause of AD remains unclear, research points to mutations on the 1q21 chromosome as a contributor. Other risk factors for developing AD include: Living in an urban environment, having a higher level of income and education, being female, and coming from a smaller family.3
  • Researchers have identified more than 40 mutations in the filaggrin gene (FLG) that have been associated with up to 50 percent of patients with moderate to severe AD. People who have mutations in FLG have a much greater risk of developing AD.5
  • 75 percent of those with eczema visit the doctor at least once a year and 12 percent missed 1 to 2 days of work due to their condition.3
  • Studies estimate that each doctor visit for AD costs the patient $274.3
  • 60 percent of children and up to 30 percent of adults with AD experience sleep problems.1
  • Children with AD tend to develop other health conditions such as food allergies, hay fever, asthma, depression, anxiety, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).1
  • Both children and adults with AD have an increased risk of getting serious bacterial, viral and fungal skin infections.1
Emily Downward & Jessica Johns Pool | Last reviewed: November 2019
  1. National Eczema Association. Eczema Facts. Available at: https://nationaleczema.org/research/eczema-facts/ Accessed on 10/25/19.
  2. Nutten S: Atopic Dermatitis: Global Epidemiology and Risk Factors. Ann Nutr Metab 2015;66(suppl 1):8-16. doi: 10.1159/000370220.
  3. AJMC.com. Overview of Atopic Dermatitis. Avena-Woods C. Available at: https://www.ajmc.com/journals/supplement/2017/atopic-dermatitis-focusing-on-the-patient-care-strategy-in-the-managed-care-setting/overview-of-atopic-dermatitis-article. Accessed on 10/25/19.
  4. Eichenfield LF, Tom WL, Chamilin SL, et al. Guidelines of care for the management of atopic dermatitis. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology 2014;70:338- 351.
  5. Tollefson MM, Bruckner AL. Atopic dermatitis: skin-directed management. Am Acad Pediatrics. 2014 Dec;134(6):e1735-1744. doi: 10.1542/peds.2014-2812.