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Eczema doesn’t go away in most children, study finds

The infant with allergic diathesis at home
The infant with allergic diathesis at homeiStock

My 14-year-old son has been dealing with the itchy, scaly red skin patches of eczema since he was a baby; I always know when summer is officially over the minute he starts scratching his arms and legs, since cold, dry air causes a flare-up for him.

Over-the-counter corticosteroid creams usually help him manage the itchiness, and the condition — which doesn’t cause severe problems in most of the 10 to 15 percent of children who have it — has receded through the years. Still, I wonder if he’ll ever outgrow it.

A new study published this week in JAMA Dermatology suggests he may not: Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania followed more than 7100 children with eczema for several years and found that the skin condition lingered through the teens. Only 50 percent of those who reached age 20 had at least one six-month period where they were free of symptoms.


This runs counter to what most dermatologists are taught during training: that 50 to 70 percent of children with eczema — referred to medically as atopic dermatitis — will be free of their symptoms by age 12, the authors wrote.

“Physicians who treat children with mild to moderate atopic dermatitis,” they added, “should tell children and their caregivers that AD is a lifelong illness with periods of waxing and waning skin problems.”

Deborah Kotz can be reached at dkotz@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @debkotz2.