Will My Eczema Get Worse or Better?

Written by Jessica Johns Pool | Last reviewed June 2022 | Last updated: August 2022

Eczema is the more common name for atopic dermatitis. It is a common skin condition that causes dry, itchy, and scaly patches. About 31 million people in the United States, or 10 percent of the population, have eczema.1

It may begin at any age but more often begins in childhood. Most children outgrow the condition. However, it is common for it to last into adulthood if the child has severe eczema.2,3

Eczema is a chronic condition, meaning it lasts for a long time or never completely goes away. There is no cure for eczema, but there are many treatments.2

If you or a loved one have been diagnosed with eczema, you may have many questions about the future. Will the symptoms get better or worse over time? How will my daily life change? Will it affect my quality of life? Will this affect my finances?

Eczema in childhood

Eczema is more common in children, with up to 1 in 5 having the condition. Nearly half develop symptoms by age 6 months, and nearly all develop symptoms by age 5. The good news is that 7 out of 10 children grow out of eczema by their teen years.2,3

Children who also develop asthma and hay fever are more likely to have severe eczema. And, children with severe eczema are more likely to still have symptoms as an adult. That said, eczema may persist long-term regardless of its severity.2,3

The good news is that roughly half of people with eczema that lasts into adulthood have at least one 6-month period each year where they are symptom- and medication-free.2

Eczema in adulthood

Roughly 1 to 3 out of every 100 adults have eczema. While it usually begins in childhood, 1 in 4 say their symptoms began in adulthood.1,3

Much like children with eczema, 1 in 5 adults also have asthma, as well as a higher risk of hay fever and food allergies. Four in 10 adults have moderate to severe disease.1-3

Doctors know some people are more likely to have long-term symptoms, including those who:2,3

  • Live in southern US states
  • Having a relative living with eczema, asthma, or hay fever (allergic rhinitis)
  • Also have asthma or hay fever themselves
  • Are exposed to common allergens like pollen, wool, pets, cigarettes, fumes, and some food and cleaning products

Developing other health conditions

One in 3 people with eczema also develop hay fever (allergic rhinitis) or asthma. Allergies to latex, nickel, and foods like peanuts, eggs, milk, soy, fish, and seafood are more common in people with eczema.2

Infections

Because scratching and dryness lead to breaks in the skin, skin infections are more common in people with eczema:3,4

  • Bacteria, such as Staphylococcus aureus (often called a “staph” infection) or Streptococcus
  • Viruses, such as herpes simplex and molluscum contagiosum (a poxvirus infection)

A herpes simplex infection can lead to a complication known as Kaposi varicelliform eruption (eczema herpeticum). This is a serious skin infection.3,4

Other health problems

Other health problems linked to eczema include sleep problems, mental health issues, and more. Since the itch often gets worse at night, insomnia and daytime fatigue are common. This may lead to missed work or school days, or poor performance.1

Risk of other diseases

Children and adults with eczema are more likely to have depression, anxiety, or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). As you might expect, depression and anxiety tend to increase with disease severity.1

Adults with eczema also have a higher risk of other diseases that increases with symptom severity, including:1

  • Diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, and heart disease
  • Autoimmune conditions
  • Serious infections during a hospital stay
  • Eye-related conditions such as pink eye (conjunctivitis), inflammation of the clear tissue on the outer part of the eye known as the cornea (keratitis), and bulging of the cornea (keratoconus)

While there is no cure for eczema, a combination of medicine, skincare, and lifestyle changes can help you control symptoms and improve your prognosis.

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