Most often, eczema develops in young children and subsides as they grow up. But if you’re an adult who’s just found a dry, flaking patch of red skin, you may be wondering if you could have developed this skin condition later in life. So, can you actually develop eczema as an adult — without any warning signs or past history with the condition? The answer is yes.
Experiencing Eczema as an Adult
You can develop any of the seven forms of eczema as an adult. If you develop atopic dermatitis, the most common and well-recognized form of eczema, for the first time after you turn 18, dermatologists consider this adult-onset atopic dermatitis. One in four adults report having their first eczema symptoms as an adult, according to the National Eczema Association. Interestingly, your 50s are a peak time to develop adult-onset eczema.
While some people may develop atopic dermatitis for the first time as an adult, others will experience eczema as an adult that previously had it as a child. When eczema returns in this way, it’s often milder the second time.
On the other hand, some people may suffer from eczema as a child and into adulthood, without it subsiding.
How Do You Get Eczema as an Adult?
The exact cause of eczema remains unknown today. That’s for both children and adults. However, researchers and doctors believe eczema is influenced by a combination of genetic, environmental, and bacterial factors.
Most people with atopic dermatitis have high levels of inflammation in the body due to an overactive immune system. Staph A. bacteria (scientifically known as Staphylococcus aureus) may be a trigger for the overreaction of the immune system.
Studies also show that some people with atopic dermatitis have a mutation of the gene that creates filaggrin, the protein that forms the top layer of skin.
These are all factors to keep in mind when considering what causes adults to develop eczema later in life. It’s also important to realize that as you age, your skin tends to dry, making it more susceptible to developing eczema.
Eczema in Children vs. Eczema in Adults
In a lot of ways, eczema shows up very similarly in both adults and children. However, there are some key differences between how a child may experience atopic dermatitis versus how an adult may experience the same condition.
Atopic dermatitis in both children and adults:
- Can be very itchy, to the point of losing sleep
- Can show up anywhere on the skin
- Impacts mental health and quality of life
- Greatly increases risk of skin infections
- Makes it more likely you may also have asthma, hay fever, and other allergies
While many of the psychological and physiological effects of eczema are the same in children and adults, the skin condition tends to look different between the two age groups.
In adults, atopic dermatitis tends to be more scaly and dry than it is in children. This is likely due to the fact that in general, adults already have drier skin, which exacerbates these symptoms.
While the skin condition can show up anywhere on the skin, adults are more likely to experience atopic dermatitis on the face or around the eyes. Adults will often see thickened, darkened skin around the eyes, which you don’t typically see in children with eczema.
If you’ve just started experiencing eczema symptoms for the first time in your 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, or beyond, know you’re not alone. While eczema is most common in children, there are many adults suffering from atopic dermatitis and other forms of eczema.
Be sure to consult with a board certified dermatologist to make sure your red, itchy rash is truly eczema. A correct diagnosis will help you find a treatment plan to get you back to healthy skin again.