Although eczema is usually seen as a childhood disease which most sufferers grow out of, some people who had eczema as a child can flare up again in middle age or in retirement, while others can develop eczema for the first time in later life.
This is known as adult onset atopic dermatitis, and although it’s an under-recognised condition it does seem to be on the increase across the world. The reason why it happens isn’t totally understood yet, but there seem to be various different factors that increase the risk of developing eczema later in life:
- Smoking (or being exposed to smoke in childhood)
- Change in environmental conditions (ie moving to a city with a different temperature and humidity)
- Exposure to a new allergen
- Sensitisation to topical steroids
- Hormonal changes
- New medications
- Hereditary susceptibility
One theory suggests that adult onset eczema only appears in people who’ve had a tendency towards atopic disease all their lives, but changes in their environment, stress levels or health cause new outbreaks. Whatever the reason, it’s important to get a definite diagnosis of eczema or atopic dermatitis if it appears suddenly in adulthood, to rule out other possibilities as well as to find an effective treatment regime.