While most people who get atopic eczema as a child will outgrow the condition there are about 10-30% of people who will continue to have relapses of symptoms into adulthood. About 5% of people who had no symptoms as a child will be diagnosed as an adult. Adult-onset of atopic eczema, which is when symptoms occur after the age of 18, can be a difficult diagnosis to make. It is thought that atopic eczema in adults is an under-recognized and also an under-reported condition.1
There is a belief that adult atopic eczema is just adult recurrence and that the patient was never officially diagnosed with atopic eczema as a child.2
Each person impacted by atopic eczema will have different triggers as well as different things that may irritate their skin and cause a flare. For those who grew up managing atopic eczema they may be aware of their triggers and irritants, but when you develop the condition as an adult it can be a process to learn what may cause a flare-up. Common irritants can be synthetic fibers, soaps or bath products, perfumes, laundry detergents, cleaning solutions and chemicals. Outside of irritants other common triggers that adults should be conscientious of are stress, dry skin, weather, sweat, and hormones.
Be allergy aware
If you’ve never had to worry about atopic eczema previously allergens may not be something that you have been concerned about before. While not everyone with atopic eczema finds that allergens are a trigger, for some though certain allergens may cause issues. Common allergens that trigger atopic eczema are certain foods, dust mites, molds, pollens, and pet dander. Even as an adult it is possible that you can develop allergies or have allergies that become worse as an adult.
Sweat, shower, repeat
Exercise in combination with a balanced diet is an important part of being healthy as an adult. The challenge for adults is sweat or any excess moisture that remains on the skin for too long can be a trigger for atopic eczema. For many with atopic eczema they have a hypersensitivity to sweat, and when there is the presence of sweat the body has an immune response and causes inflammation. If you take part in any type of exercise that causes sweat, it can be important to change the wet clothing after exercising and to try and shower. After showering or taking a bath, skin should be gently patted dry and then moisturizers should be applied. The only time that it is okay to keep the skin wet, would be when using wet wrap therapy as a treatment. A bonus tip for showering and bathing – keep the water lukewarm, hot water can strip dry skin of essential oils and that is not something you want to do!
It can feel like a shock to get diagnosed with a chronic condition as an adult, but there are ways to manage symptoms as well as treatment options for adults. Talk with your healthcare provider about what might be best for your atopic eczema symptoms. Remember that you aren’t alone on this journey, there are others who understand the challenges that can come with living atopic eczema!
Have you been diagnosed with atopic eczema (atopic dermatitis) as an adult? We would love to hear from you! Share your story with the community!
Kanwar AJ, Narang T. Adult onset atopic dermatitis: Under-recognized or under-reported? Indian Dermatology Online Journal. 2013;4(3):167-171. doi:10.4103/2229-5178.115508. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3752467/
Salamon, M. Published July 30th, 2017. Atopic Dermatitis in Adults Tough Nut to Crack. Accessed on February 26th, 2018 at https://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/883579