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What Causes Eczema in Adults?

Eczema is a common skin condition that is often associated with children, but that’s not always true. It can also affect adults — particularly older adults.

In this article, we’ll explain exactly what eczema is and cover the main causes of eczema in adults (including one that might surprise you). We’ll also be talking about its symptoms, what eczema treatments are available and when it is best to see a dermatologist.

What is eczema?

Eczema is the name given to a group of conditions that cause skin inflammation. You might have heard the term atopic eczema before — this is just the name given to the most common kind of eczema.

Eczema causes the skin to become dry, itchy and cracked. The condition breaks down the skin’s barrier function, making it harder for your skin to retain moisture and protect your body from external elements.

Adults tend to get eczema in different areas of the body than children, including but not limited to:

  • The back of the knees
  • The crooks of the elbows
  • The back of the neck
  • The face
  • Around the eyes 

It’s usually a long-term condition, although it can improve a lot — and even clear completely — in some people as they get older.

Is there more than one type of eczema?

There are several different types of eczema that can affect us at different stages throughout our life. The most common ones that can occur later in life include:

  • Atopic dermatitis – a chronic condition which causes itchy rashes and discolouration
  • Varicose eczema – a long-term condition which affects your lower legs and is common in people who have varicose veins or reduced mobility
  • Asteatotic eczema – a type which develops when the skin becomes very dry, leading to red lines in the skin (fissures) and most commonly affects the shins, or other areas like the thighs, arms and tummy 

Did you know that our skin can become drier as we get older, too? This can lead to roughness, scales and itchiness, and make skin more prone to eczema flare-ups. 

So, what causes eczema?

It can be difficult to say exactly what causes it. Experts haven’t been able to pinpoint why but they offer several possible causes, including:

  • Your family genes – if you have a family history of eczema or dermatitis you are more likely to develop the condition, even if you didn’t have eczema as a kid
  • Drier skin – skin becomes drier, thinner and more fragile as it ages. This means that it becomes more sensitive. Irritants can also cause flare-ups more easily 
  • Emotional triggers – sometimes, eczema can emerge due to stress. Stressful life events such as bereavement or redundancy can trigger eczema symptoms
  • Your environment – if your home is particularly warm and dry throughout the winter months, you may be more prone to developing asteatotic eczema
  • Menopause – as oestrogen levels decline during menopause, changes in your skin can make you more prone to eczema 

How long does eczema last?

How long an eczema flare-up lasts can depend on a few different things, including the type of eczema and the severity of your flare-up. 

If treated properly, an eczema flare-up may only last from one to three weeks. 

If you have chronic eczema, an effective preventative eczema treatment can help to ease your symptoms quickly.

Can I effectively manage my symptoms? 

There’s no cure for eczema — it is a long-term condition. But you can learn how to manage your symptoms and avoid the triggers which might be causing you to have flare-ups. 

There are a number of lifestyle changes they might help too. 

Stress management 

Research suggests stress can be a significant trigger so finding stress management techniques that work for you might be the answer. The types of activities you could consider include exercising regularly, getting enough quality sleep, and practising yoga or medication. 

Personal care products 

The soaps you use in your daily routine can also be a factor. Choose products without chemicals or fragrances that could irritate, and instead opt for products with moisturising properties that are good for your skin health.

How to treat eczema

If the above measures don’t work for your eczema, there are several types of treatments that can help you manage flare-ups. It is best to speak to a dermatologist who can develop a treatment plan that is specific to your type of eczema and your symptoms. 

Eczema treatment may include:

  • Over-the-counter treatments – some treatments for eczema (including moisturisers, lotions, pain relievers, antihistamines, pain relievers and medicated shampoos) are available over the counter. However, these are usually only suitable for mild eczema.
  • Prescription medication – you may be prescribed topical steroid treatments such as ointments, creams, tapes or plasters. These work to reduce inflammation and help manage symptoms such as swelling, redness and itching. Other possible treatments may include topical calcineurin inhibitors (TCIs) — a new, topical alternative to steroids which can help reduce inflammation.

If eczema is affecting your health and quality of life, our consultant dermatologists can provide expert skin advice, help diagnose your condition and develop a highly personalised treatment plan for you. 

Speak to our friendly dermatology team today to book your consultation and take the first step towards happier, healthier skin.

If you are not sure if this service is right for you, or have some questions for us, we would love to help and look forward to speaking with you soon. Just give our friendly team a call on 0808 239 0454.


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