How eczema changes with age

Eczema can affect you differently depending on your age. The best way to treat it can differ too.

Eczema facts

  • The number of eczema sufferers has been rising steadily in the UK for some years, and now stands at 1 in 5 children and 1 in 12 adults.
  • Eczema isn't catching.
  • The most common form of eczema is atopic eczema or atopic dermatitis. Atopic is the word used to describe allergic conditions such as asthma and hay fever.
  • Around 90% of eczema cases occur before the age of five.
  • Half of children affected by eczema will be almost clear of it by the age of six. Three-quarters will be free of it by the time they are teenagers.
  • Occasional flare-ups are possible in adulthood.

Relieving eczema in babies

In babies, eczema tends to appear as a red rash on the cheeks, spreading down to the neck and nappy area.

Although it's natural to be concerned about using steroid creams on your baby, they can be very useful for short periods. Just make sure to consult your GP before using these creams and never use them on a baby's face.

It can be difficult to get the dose (amount) of steroid cream correct. It's usually measured in fingertip units (FTU). One FTU can treat an area of skin twice the size of an adult's full hand and fingers.

Avoid using too little steroid cream as this can prolong flare ups and means you may require more treatment in the long-term. Once the flare up has cleared, stop using the steroid.

Use cotton bedding and clothing to reduce the itching, and keep your baby's nails short and clean to reduce the damage from scratching.

Read more about eczema in babies.

Relieving eczema in young children

By the age of two, a child with eczema will probably have the rash on their neck, elbows, arms, ankles and behind the knees.

In children over two, antihistamines may help. Antibacterial ointments may also be useful if the eczema becomes infected. Your GP may also consider prescribing a medicine to control any inflammation of the skin.

Distraction is the best way to help your child during eczema flare-ups. Keep your child as busy as possible with activities to reduce the distress caused by eczema.

Read more about eczema in young children.

Relieving eczema in teens and young adults

Eczema usually improves as children reach their teens. It's important that they continue moisturising. Teenage boys, in particular, don't like using emollients (non-cosmetic moisturisers), and girls starting to use cosmetics and scents may have a reaction.

This is also the age when young adults may start smoking and drinking, both of which can cause eczema flare-ups. The stress of exams, first jobs and new careers can also be a problem. Late nights and lots of coffee are not good for eczema.

Many young people are very active and eczema should not interfere with sporting activities. Sweating can irritate eczema, but this can be reduced by wearing loose cotton clothing and exercising in cool weather.

Teenagers should avoid swimming during a flare-up and always use emollient before getting into the water. They need to shower afterwards and reapply emollient.

Relieving eczema in the over-40s

Flare-ups often disappear by this age, but most former eczema sufferers remain prone to dry skin, so you should continue to use emollient.

Having varicose veins can increase your risk of venous eczema. Speak to your GP for advice.

Read more about how to look after your skin.

Page last reviewed: 12/01/2014

Next review due: 12/01/2016

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