What Causes Adult Onset Eczema? Top Management Tips

More than 16 million adults in the United States live with some form of eczema. While many people struggle with eczema from a young age, one in four people report adult onset eczema in later life.

To most people, eczema might seem like a benign condition characterized by dry, flaky skin that mostly occurs in children. But the reality is that living with eczema is completely debilitating for many people — even adults.

But what causes eczema in later life and how can you manage the condition? This blog explains what you need to know.

Defining Adult Onset Eczema

Also known as atopic dermatitis, the clinical definition of eczema translates to sensitive, dry skin that becomes scaly, itchy, and inflamed. The cause of this is due to a malfunction in the workings of the skin barrier. The outermost layer of your skin develops microscopic cracks that cause your skin to lose its hydration, which leads to inflammation.

If you’re unsure whether you actually have eczema, there are tell-tale signs to look out for:

  • Your skin becomes dry, scaly, and itchy
  • Some of the most common areas impacted by eczema include behind the knees, the back of the neck, the face (around the eyes), and the elbows
  • Your skin can become thick, dark, and leathery the longer you have eczema in these areas

The are different variations of eczema in adulthood, too. Some people might develop a mild case of eczema, while others might develop a debilitating form of this condition. If this is you and you’re wondering where can I find a skin specialist near me? Click the link for more.

What Causes Eczema in Adults?

Eczema is quite a complicated condition because it’s very unique to each person. Basically, this means there are a myriad of potential causes, especially in adults. The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) defines eczema as complex as it often relates to the relationship between your environment and your genes.

For most people, eczema stems from having an overactive immune system that’s highly sensitive to irritants and allergens. In adults, here are some of the most common reasons for the onset of eczema in later life:


Much of the time, the onset of eczema comes down to our genetics. For some people, eczema might peak in their younger years and settle as they get older. For some others, it might do the opposite and peak later in life.

Genetics and gene mutation play a big role in the onset of eczema at any age. Genetic eczema is the result of a mutation in the gene that’s responsible for producing filaggrin. This is a type of protein that the body produces to help protect the outermost layer of the skin.

A deficit of filaggrin exposes the skin to allergens and pollutants which causes irritation and inflammation, often resulting in eczema. Atopic dermatitis, the most common form of eczema, is often a result of genetics, i.e. you’ve inherited it from a family member. 

Your Environment

Environmental exposure connects with another common form of eczema known as contact dermatitis. In other words, the pollutants or allergens you come into contact with on a regular basis can cause eczema due to a breakdown in the skin barrier.

This is especially common in certain professions such as mechanics, hairstylists, painters, electricians, and cleaners. The environment you work in might expose you to different chemicals, pollutants, and allergens that can irritate the skin, causing contact dermatitis.

Temperature fluctuations in your everyday environment can also cause major eczema flare-ups. 


Yes, allergies and eczema are two very different conditions to live with. But what most people don’t realize is that allergies are often connected to eczema flare-ups. Known as allergic contact dermatitis, you might experience a delayed itchy skin reaction when exposed to an allergen.

When you come into contact with an allergen, your skin might begin to flare up and cause an eczema rash. It might feel very scaly, itchy, inflamed, and sensitive to touch. Often, the rash might take one-two days to form after the allergen exposure.

Other allergies related to food and hay fever are also related to eczema flare-ups.

Your Immune System

As mentioned earlier, eczema is often the result of an overactive immune system in both adults and children. Eczema is not necessarily an autoimmune disease, but if you have compromised immunity, you could struggle with eczema flare-ups.

The role of our immune system is to protect us from illness and disease. However, when it becomes overactive or dysregulated this can manifest in a plethora of different reactions, one of the most common being eczema. It’s important to bear in mind that your immune system is not the cause of eczema, however, it inflames symptoms.

You could have an underlying problem causing dysregulation of your immune system, which manifests as eczema.

Treatment Options

Living with eczema is not easy. It’s itchy, uncomfortable, and for some people, unsightly. Just when you think you’ve found a solution that provides relief, you have another flare-up. So what are the treatment options that actually work?

  • For mild eczema, emollient-based moisturizers and bath oils work best. Try to apply moisturizer to the affected areas twice a day
  • If your eczema is a little more severe, you might need a prescription cream such as Pimecrolimus cream (Elidel). It is non-steroidal so you can use it on every part of the body, even the face
  • Antihistamines are a good way to keep itching at bay
  • Topical corticosteroids and steroid lotions are effective, but not a good long-term solution. You cannot use them on the face or other sensitive parts of the body
  • UV light therapy or phototherapy are good treatment options for advanced eczema
  • It’s important to use mild, soap-free, and fragrance-free body products where possible

The bottom line is that living with eczema is all about managing the condition well. It’s about being proactive about your symptoms and flare-ups while doing everything you can to avoid uncontrolled itching.

Get Your Health and Wellness Under Control

If you’re part of the 16 million people living with adult-onset eczema in the U.S., take some comfort from the fact that you’re not alone and there are plenty of solutions to managing this condition. Remember that you don’t have to struggle alone, reach out to a dermatologist if your eczema begins to impact your day-to-day life — don’t wait for it to get worse!

If you’re interested in learning more about healing your eczema from the inside, out, it’s time to get your health in check. Explore the rest of this site for your daily dose of wellness tips.

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