By Mary Elizabeth Dallas
Although eczema, or "atopic dermatitis," often begins during childhood, the new study found that kids with eczema will likely experience flare-ups into their 20s. In some cases, the researchers added, people could be dealing with the skin ailment throughout their lifetime.
"Based on our findings, it is probable that [eczema] does not fully resolve in most children with mild to moderate symptoms," wrote a team led by Dr. David Margolis at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine. They said that doctors who treat children with mild to moderate forms of eczema should tell the patient and their caregiver that the illness could be lifelong "with periods of waxing and waning skin problems."
One expert said the study gives valuable new insight into the course of the illness.
"Eczema is a skin disease that usually occurs in young children. These patients have sensitive skin, prone to inflammation, infections and allergies," explained Dr. Joshua Zeichner, director of cosmetic and clinical research in the department of dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. "Itching is a hallmark of the disease and it is associated with significant health care costs, impairment of quality of life and interpersonal relationships, and lost time at school and work."
According to Zeichner, "it is generally thought that eczema resolves as young children get older. This study, however, followed the natural course of the disease over long periods of time and discovered that symptoms may persist longer than previously thought, lasting at least into the second decade of life or longer."
In the study, Margolis and colleagues analyzed the eczema symptoms of a group of more than 7,100 children over time. On average, the children were just under 2 years old when their symptoms began.
The study, published online April 2 in JAMA Dermatology, found that more than 80 percent of the children continued to have eczema symptoms or went on to use medication to treat the condition every year until they were 26.