If you’re a parent or guardian of a child with eczema, you’re probably all too familiar with the itchy ins and outs of the inflammatory skin condition — and with how tricky it can be to diagnose. Perhaps you noticed a dry, scaly rash crop up across your child’s arms or legs, or maybe you sensed a flare-up creeping over their hands or face. But eczema looks different on everyone — patches might appear as bright as candy-apple red on some, or purplish, brownish and even grayish on others — in which case you’ll want to see a dermatologist, stat, as it could indicate an infection or even another skin condition entirely.
Eczema — also known by its clinical name, atopic dermatitis — most often appears in the first six months to five years of a children’s life, according to the National Eczema Association. And the condition is especially common among children: While an estimated 31.6 million people in the U.S. have some form of eczema, approximately 9.6 million of those cases occur in individuals under the age of 18. And yet, despite its prevalence, eczema is still something of a mystery for patients and medical professionals alike, largely because there’s no cure — though there are many treatments available that can control and manage it to the point that the patient won’t even realize they have it.
Growing Out of Your Eczema: Myth or Truth?
For those younger folks dealing with eczema’s sensitive, swollen skin and small, raised bumps, there’s good news: Atopic dermatitis traditionally disappears almost entirely by the time children reach adulthood, with the exception of an occasional flare-up here and there, depending on one’s level of sensitivity. And when it does appear in adults, it tends to be milder.
“Many children’s eczema improves after age three, and even more so into young adulthood,” says Marnie Nussbaum, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City. “Almost two-thirds of children’s eczema will resolve. However, their skin usually remains dry during the winter, with occasional patches appearing.”
So, can patients grow out of eczema? Technically, yes — usually if they had it as children first. In a study from the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, 80 percent of childhood eczema was gone eight years after its initial diagnosis, and less than 5 percent of cases persisted longer than 20 years. Plus, if you were one of those 9.6 million Americans who experienced the condition as a child, “it may be milder” if it returns in adulthood, says Tiffany Libby, a board-certified dermatologist at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island.