Researchers say atopic dermatitis is lifelong condition

April 8, 2014

Children with atopic dermatitis (AD), or eczema, don’t necessarily grow out of the disease, as was previously believed, according to a new study.

Children with atopic dermatitis (AD), or eczema, don’t necessarily grow out of the disease, as was previously believed, according to a new study.

Conventional wisdom has long held that childhood eczema clears up by adolescence. According to a new study published in JAMA Dermatology, this isn’t the case. In the largest study of eczema to date, researchers from University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine, Philadelphia, tracked more than 7,000 juveniles registered with the Pediatric Eczema Elective Registry (PEER). The PEER study is an ongoing observational registry and cohort that started enrollment in 2004 and follows participants for 10 years.

Researchers worked to determine whether patients stayed symptom-free for six months at six-month intervals. All study subjects were diagnosed with either mild or moderate eczema. More than 4,000 of the patients were studied for at least two years, and nearly 2,500 were studied for at least five years.

Results showed that at every age, about 80 percent of patients had symptoms of eczema or were under treatment for the condition. The authors noted that even at age 20, only half of the patients had had at least one period of six months without symptoms or treatment.

The authors concluded that AD is “probably a life-long illness” and that symptoms among children are likely to continue through the second decade of life and beyond.

“The most significant find from our study is that most children with mild to moderate eczema will have intermittent periods of active disease at least into late adolescence and early adulthood,” lead author David Margolis, M.D., a University of Pennsylvania dermatologist and epidemiologist, tells Dermatology Times. “The notion that eczema is completely gone by the time a child reaches the second decade of life is likely not true.”

Dr. Margolis and his colleagues encouraged physicians treating children with mild-to-moderate eczema to make them and their caregivers aware that eczema is a lifelong disease, and that symptoms may well continue off and on for a lifetime.