Eczema is a condition that some people outgrow, while others have it throughout adulthood. The most common type is known as atopic dermatitis.

Eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis (AD), is common and results in overly dry skin.

The condition typically causes the skin to become inflamed, rough, cracked, and itchy. Blisters may also occur on the skin’s surface.

Many factors may trigger atopic dermatitis, such as certain foods, smoke, soap, fragrances, and pollen.

This article discusses eczema, its causes and symptoms, and how long the condition may last. It also looks at some home care measures and treatments that can help ease the symptoms of eczema.

AD is more likely to develop in about 15–30% of children’s first year. About 2–10% of adults also report eczema symptoms.

Treatment options are available, but lifestyle or environmental factors may contribute to the condition. So, those affected will need to manage those triggers before getting better.

Most children will outgrow AD, with symptoms resolving by adulthood. However, the disease can persist, especially if it develops later in life or if other conditions or factors exacerbate it.

There is not a single cause of eczema. Instead, there are many different possible causes of AD that are:

Genetic

Filaggrin, a specific skin protein, has an alteration in some people’s genetics. This protein naturally moisturizes the skin, and its mutation occurs in up to 30% of people with AD, leading to chronically dry skin.

Other genes, such as CARD11, are mutated in those with eczema, leading to a weakening of the immune system. So, the body may react to a specific allergen by the skin rash seen with AD.

Environmental

Several environmental exposures are possible triggers for eczema. They include:

  • irritants: Perfumes, lotions, sweat
  • farm and rural living: Farm animals, pesticides, dirt
  • urban living: Higher pollution exposure, stress, and lifestyle
  • temperature and humidity: Higher temperatures and humidity
  • pollution: Wildfires, power plants, and motor vehicles
  • cigarette smoking: Smoke exposure damages skin
  • hard water: High-mineral water irritates the skin

A child’s risk for eczema may also increase due to certain exposures during pregnancy. For example, if the mother smoked, consumed alcohol, or experienced stress, it might have contributed to their child’s AD.

Biological

People with AD have a dysfunctional skin barrier where the skin is overly dry. As a result, water more easily escapes the skin wall, leading to dehydration.

The layers of the skin contain different types of cells. These cells can malfunction in their growth patterns and cause a buildup of lipids and fatty acids, preventing water loss.

These cells can malfunction in their growth patterns and disrupt the buildup of lipids and fatty acids, therefore, exacerbating water loss and worsening symptoms of AD.

Immunological

A person’s immune system may also be a contributing factor. For example, food hypersensitivity may cause AD in 10–30% of those with a diagnosis.

The reason is that when they eat foods such as eggs or peanuts, their body reacts by creating inflammation. The same reaction can occur due to animal hair and other allergens.

AD cases have increased dramatically by about 6–8% in the past few decades. The table below shows disparities between eczema’s prevalence among different ethnicities, countries, and ages:

FactorOccurrence rate
children10–20%
adults1–3%
The United States11%
Iran1–2%
Japan16–17%
non-Hispanic Black17.1%
Hispanic white13.7%
non-Hispanic white11.2%

The data suggests a greater incidence of eczema in ethnic minorities. However, it is unclear if the reason is their genetics or because this group of people tends to lack the necessary medical resources they need.

A person’s eczema can present in various stages, including:

  • acute: This may be the first time a person notices eczema symptoms, which can present as a rash that starts to itch.
  • subacute: This refers to when the condition is between the acute and chronic stages. Itching may reduce, but the skin can appear flaky, cracked, or red.
  • chronic: In this stage, the eczema symptoms may last for several months or longer. Itching can be intense, while rashes may cover a larger area of the skin.

There are different kinds of eczema. Here we look briefly at each type.

Contact dermatitis

Contact dermatitis is the skin’s response to an irritant or allergen. Symptoms include itchy skin, rash, and sometimes blisters.

Because people have contact with thousands of possible irritants in their everyday lives, identifying the exact one can be challenging.

Common triggers of allergic contact dermatitis include:

Dyshidrotic eczema

Dyshidrotic eczema, also known as pompholyx eczema, produces small, itchy, fluid-filled blisters on the feet and hands. The cause is unknown but tends to appear during certain times of the year, such as allergy season.

Neurodermatitis

Neurodermatitis begins with the development of one or two itchy patches that often appear on the leg, arm, groin, scalp, or back of the neck. The itchiness is so intense that it can wake a person from sleep, affecting their quality of life.

In addition, people with skin allergies, psoriasis, or mental health disorders are more likely to experience it.

Stasis dermatitis

Stasis dermatitis is a common type of eczema that usually develops on the lower legs of people with reduced blood flow. Open sores, or skin ulcers, adversely affect the condition. People with diabetes and cardiovascular disease are at a higher risk of stasis dermatitis.

Nummular eczema

Nummular eczema presents coin-shaped spots or patches on the skin. At first, the lesions are tiny but then get more significant and spread throughout the body. They may also acquire superficial infections and develop sores.

A doctor will provide several methods to help treat AD. First, they develop a treatment plan that they base on the type of eczema and its severity. Any care plan should also include avoiding triggers to prevent flare-ups and continuous monitoring of treatment effects.

Regardless of treatment, the main objectives for treating the condition include:

  • managing dry skin
  • reducing inflammation
  • controlling itching
  • promoting healing
  • preventing infection

Skin care

One of the best ways a person can keep the skin hydrated is to make sure it is moisturized and by staying hydrated every day. When applying skin moisturizers, it is best to do it immediately after bathing to help minimize water loss.

A doctor will recommend the best moisturizers for eczema and how often to wash.

Other forms of skin care include:

  • Taking a diluted bleach bath: A doctor can provide specific instructions for the bath, but twice a week is the frequency they recommend to prevent infections and manage symptoms.
  • Wrapping affected areas with wet wraps: Wet wrap therapy helps increase the skin’s moisture.
  • Undergoing UV light phototherapy: When the condition is severe and widespread, ultraviolet (UV) light waves may help.

People with AD should never begin a treatment regimen without speaking with their doctor first. Only a medical professional can confirm a diagnosis on which they will base the treatment. An inappropriate treatment may cause more harm.

Medications

Doctors often recommend a combination of both skin care and the following medications in treating eczema:

  • moisturizers: Treat dry skin and itching
  • steroids: Creams, lotions, or ointments to help reduce inflammation
  • immunomodulators: Reduce inflammation and are an option if steroids are not effective
  • antihistamines: Help manage allergic response
  • biologic medications: May reduce inflammation
  • allergy shots: Help with allergic AD
  • antibiotics: Fight and prevent infection

People with AD often see symptoms improve as they age. Mild-to-moderate symptoms may persist for 10 years or more, but they are still less severe than those that people experience at a younger age.

About 80% of those with AD will need skin medications to manage their symptoms. Specific lifestyle changes may also be necessary to ensure healing. These include:

  • avoiding tobacco
  • wearing cotton and avoiding wool clothing
  • testing for pet dander allergies
  • avoiding certain soaps and lotions
  • avoiding hot baths or showers

If a person has symptoms of eczema, they can consult with their doctor to receive a diagnosis and treatment. Because there is no specific test for the condition, a healthcare professional may ask about an individual’s family history, including allergies, asthma, or hayfever.

A patch test may also help test for contact dermatitis, or a skin biopsy can rule out other possible conditions such as psoriasis.

When people experience eczema flares, they can sometimes come on unexpectedly and manifest as lesions, redness, and itching. However, how long they last depends on the type of eczema and the other contributing factors.

For example, if a person with eczema is around another person smoking, they may experience a flare. If they continue to be around that person while they smoke, they may find it challenging to keep their symptoms at bay because their eczema trigger is still present.

Using skin moisturizers and other treatments effectively reduces the frequency of AD flares. For example, one study found that study participants’ incidences of flare-ups were significantly less when they used daily skin moisturizers.

In addition, the data showed flares occurring at only a 21% rate versus 65% in those not using the treatment.

Should you let eczema dry out?

No. The key to treating eczema is for a person to keep their skin moisturized. If it is left to dry out, it will only make the symptoms worse.

How long does it take for eczema to go away on its own?

Every individual is different, and the condition’s duration depends on many internal and external factors. Most often, eczema goes away on its own as people grow older, usually by the time they reach early adulthood. However, a person can still experience flare-ups if they have exposure to triggers such as stress or hot weather.

How long does baby eczema last?

When a baby has eczema, parents can expect it to last until the child grows up. However, there is no set duration of the condition.

Eczema is a skin condition that a person can have their entire life. However, they may outgrow it if it develops in childhood.

The most common type is atopic dermatitis, with symptoms varying in people of different skin tones.

Treatment and management are similar for all skin tones, which can involve home remedies, medications, and lifestyle changes. A person who thinks they may have eczema can speak with their doctor for diagnosis and possible treatments.