• adult;
  • allergy;
  • atopic dermatitis;
  • eczema;
  • intrinsic;
  • sensitization


We review the particular characteristics of atopic dermatitis (AD) in adult life, and compare findings with those of AD in childhood. AD affects 1–3% of adults world-wide, and can present as adult-onset AD, or as infantile/childhood AD that persists, or recurs after many years. Eczema in adults usually exists for years, compromising quality of life, sex life and occupational choices. The flexural areas, shoulders, head-and-neck, and hands are typically affected. In elderly adults, eczematous erythroderma is common. The intrinsic (non-IgE-allergic) eczema subtype affects 5–15% of cases. Classical food allergy has a low importance, although non-IgE-mediated and pseudoallergic reactions can cause eczema. Sensitivity to aeroallergens, especially dust mite, is demonstrated in the majority of adult AD patients, including elderly adults, by immunoglobulin E-mediated tests and/or atopy patch tests. Occupational allergic and irritant contact dermatitis is increased. In adults, as in children, Staphylococcus aureus colonization is very high, whereas adult skin is more heavily colonized with Malassezia yeasts. Immediate and delayed sensitization to Malassezia sympodialis is specific for intrinsic and extrinsic AD, occurring especially in head-and-neck eczema. Concerning therapy, older patients are prone to certain adverse drug effects. In conclusion, differences exist between childhood and adult disease. As we should be seeing more adults with AD in the future, there is a need for more clinical and immunological studies in older patients.