What Causes Eczema in Adults?

Eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis, can develop in adults due to a combination of genetic, environmental, and immunological factors. While eczema often begins in childhood, it can persist or even develop for the first time in adulthood. The exact cause of eczema is not fully understood, but several factors are believed to contribute to its development and flare-ups. Some common causes and triggers of eczema in adults include:

  • Genetics: Eczema often runs in families. If there is a family history of eczema, asthma, or hay fever, an individual may be at a higher risk of developing eczema.
  • Immune System Dysfunction: Eczema is considered an autoimmune condition where the immune system overreacts to irritants and allergens, leading to inflammation and skin symptoms.
  • Skin Barrier Dysfunction: Individuals with eczema often have a compromised skin barrier. This makes the skin more susceptible to irritants and allergens, which can trigger eczema flares.
  • Environmental Allergens: Exposure to allergens like pollen, dust mites, pet dander, and mold can trigger or exacerbate eczema symptoms.
  • Irritants: Harsh soaps, detergents, solvents, and other chemicals can irritate the skin and lead to eczema flare-ups.
  • Climate and Weather: Dry or cold weather can lead to skin dryness, which can trigger eczema. Excessive heat and sweating can also exacerbate symptoms.
  • Stress: Emotional stress or anxiety can lead to an increase in eczema symptoms for some individuals.
  • Diet: While diet is not a primary cause of eczema, some people may find that certain foods, like dairy products or gluten, can trigger or worsen their symptoms. Food allergies can also play a role.
  • Skin Infections: Bacterial or fungal skin infections can trigger eczema flares in some individuals.
  • Hormonal Changes: Hormonal fluctuations, such as those that occur during pregnancy or menstruation, can affect eczema symptoms.
  • Topical Medications: The prolonged use of topical corticosteroid creams or ointments, which are commonly used to treat eczema, can lead to a phenomenon called “topical steroid addiction” or “topical steroid withdrawal,” where the skin becomes dependent on the medication and experiences rebound symptoms when stopped.
  • Contact Dermatitis: Exposure to specific irritants or allergens in the environment can lead to contact dermatitis, which may appear similar to eczema.

Eczema symptoms can vary from person to person and may include redness, itching, dry or scaly patches, and in severe cases, oozing or crusting of the skin. While there is no cure for eczema, various treatment approaches can help manage symptoms and prevent flare-ups. These may include using moisturizers, avoiding triggers, taking anti-inflammatory medications, and, in some cases, using topical corticosteroids or other prescription medications. It is important for adults with eczema to work with a dermatologist or healthcare provider to develop an individualized treatment plan.