Will your child outgrow their eczema (atopic dermatitis)? Or will they continue to have eczema throughout their life? Learn about outgrowing eczema here, including emerging research on what could cause eczema to persist into adulthood.
Eczema (atopic dermatitis) most commonly affects young children under 5 years of age. The dryness, itchiness and flares of eczema can make your little one very uncomfortable. But will your child outgrow their eczema later in life? Or will they continue to have eczema into adulthood? Today, we’ll dive into the research about outgrowing eczema.
Eczema in children
Atopic dermatitis affects between 10% and 20% of children, according to a 2014 study. It is most common in babies and children under five years of age. Eczema causes the skin to become dry, rough, and itchy. And when the skin of someone with eczema is exposed to certain irritants or allergens, the eczema flares up and the itchiness and dryness get worse.
We don’t yet know what causes children to develop eczema, but we do know it involves the immune system, and involves both genes and environmental factors.
We also know that children with eczema have a weaker skin barrier, which makes it easier for irritants and allergens to pass through and cause flares. (According to some theories, a malfunction in the immune system could cause the skin barrier to get weaker, leading to eczema).
But will your child outgrow their eczema? Let’s learn the answer below.
Eczema is sometimes outgrown, but not always
Some children do outgrow their eczema. Often, this starts to happen between the ages of 4 and 5.
Babies who develop eczema before age one are most likely to outgrow it, and many eventually outgrow eczema by the time they start elementary school. Other children outgrow it by their early teens.
But still other children have eczema that persists into their teenage years, and even into adulthood. Eczema, especially chronic eczema, can be lifelong.
Unfortunately, doctors and scientists can’t currently predict which children will outgrow their eczema, and which children will still have eczema when they become adults.
There’s also no cure for eczema – meaning outgrowing it is the only way it can go away for good.
There is some good news, though. Many children who don’t completely outgrow their eczema still find that it gets milder – and more manageable – as they get older.
Your child may still have dry, itchy skin throughout their life, though, even if they grow out of their eczema. And eczema can also be cyclical. Your baby’s eczema may go into remission as they get older, but then return again when your child reaches puberty, during their teenage years, or even during adulthood.
Research on what may cause eczema to persist
Doctors and scientists have several theories on what might cause eczema to persist (not get outgrown). But more research is needed in this area, following more children with eczema over longer periods.
Here are several possible factors that could lead to lasting eczema, according to the National Eczema Association:
- A family history of eczema, food allergies, asthma, or environmental allergies
- Eczema is part of the “atopic march,” so it’s related to other allergic conditions like food allergies and asthma.
- A gene mutation that causes the body to not make filaggrin properly
- Filaggrin is a protein that’s needed for the skin cells to properly hold moisture. Without enough filaggrin, the skin cells can’t hold moisture as well as they’re supposed to, and the skin’s natural barrier becomes weaker. And people with eczema have weaker skin barriers.
- A gene mutation that affects how the body produces a protein called TSLP
- Several variations in the TSLP gene seem to be associated with longer-lasting eczema, but more research is needed in more diverse populations.
- Age of eczema development
- Children who first develop eczema between 2 and 5 years of age may be more likely to have persistent eczema, while children who first develop eczema in their first year of life may be more likely to outgrow it.
- Eczema that’s more severe when it first emerges
- Environmental factors, such as exposure to allergens, chemicals and pollutants
How to soothe your child’s eczema?
Even though it’s hard to predict whether your child will outgrow their eczema, there are several ways to make your child more comfortable when they have eczema.
The most important way to manage eczema is to give your child a warm bath daily, and then moisturize their skin within 3 minutes after the bath. You should also spritz your child’s skin with water whenever they feel itchy, and then moisturize their skin immediately after the spritz.
Avoid using anything with a fragrance or dye on your child’s skin. Stick to fragrance-free and dye-free detergents, shampoos, cleansers, and lotions. And dress your child in cotton, as that's an eczema-friendly fabric – don’t choose irritating fabrics like nylon, polyester, and wool.
If you’ve found that certain triggers cause your little one’s eczema to flare up, try to keep those irritants or allergens from coming in contact with their skin.
And if you need more help managing your child’s eczema, talk to a dermatologist. They may recommend new strategies to give your child soothing relief.
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