Eczema can develop in older adults for a variety of reasons, including dry skin, stress, and genetics.
Eczema, or atopic dermatitis, is a group of skin conditions that cause dry, red, itchy, and inflamed skin. The condition can range from mild to severe and commonly affects skin on the face, hands, feet, knees, and elbows.
While you may think of eczema as a childhood skin condition, it is actually fairly common for adults to develop it later in life, even if they had no history of it in their younger years.
In fact, according to the National Eczema Foundation, the skin condition has become almost as common in adults 60 years and older as it is in children. Dermatologists don’t know why eczema rates are increasing.
Why older adults get eczema
The specific cause of eczema is a bit of a mystery, but several factors can contribute to developing the condition as an older adult.
"As we age, our skin's barrier is less effective at retaining moisture and repairing itself," Robert Finney, a board-certified dermatologist told Allure magazine. This can lead to dry, weak skin, leaving it more susceptible to breaking down and getting inflamed.
Older adults often experience significant stress because of health issues, life changes, or the death of loved ones. Stressful events can lower the immune system and trigger the skin condition.
People with eczema tend to already be more sensitive to allergens like tree and grass pollen. Adults often develop allergies later in life, which can in turn trigger eczema. Learn more about how allergies change as we age here.
Eczema can be hereditary. If one of your direct relatives struggled with eczema, you may be more likely to develop it.
Harsh soaps or detergents
These can cause eczema to flare up, especially if your skin is already dry and sensitive. Look for non-soap cleansers designed specifically for eczema or dry skin.
Some medications commonly used by older adults, like diuretics or beta-blockers, tend to cause dry skin, and dry skin can be a trigger for eczema.
If you are dealing with any symptoms of eczema or similar skin conditions, be sure to talk with your doctor to nail down a diagnosis and treatment options. Treatment will not only help ease discomfort, but it will also help you avoid complications of the condition, like bacterial infections.
While eczema can be a frustrating condition, there are a number of options for reducing symptoms.
Some changes to your daily routine could help to reduce flare-ups. For example, if you know that certain soaps or allergens trigger flare-ups, try to avoid them at all costs! Taking lukewarm (not hot!) showers and wearing loose breathable fabrics can also help to manage symptoms.
Practicing stress reduction
Since eczema can be triggered by stress, learning to manage stress through exercise, yoga, diet changes, or a meditation practice will potentially help reduce your symptoms (and help you feel a lot better overall!)
Keeping your skin hydrated is a great way to improve symptoms and avoid flare-ups. Look for moisturizers that are hypoallergenic and fragrance- and dye-free.
These drugs can be taken orally or used topically. They help to relieve swollen, red, and inflamed skin.
These creams help to reduce inflammation, swelling, and other symptoms of eczema and related skin conditions. Mild topical corticosteroids can often be bought over the counter, though you’ll need a prescription for the stronger variety.
This treatment, also known as light therapy, exposes the affected skin to ultraviolet light, which reduces swelling, itching, and inflammation.
Topical calcineurin inhibitors (TCIs)
These prescription medications work by suppressing an overactive immune system. They are often used on more sensitive skin areas like the face.
If you’re struggling with the condition, be sure to talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you.
How Medicare can help
Original Medicare doesn’t cover routine dermatology visits, such as annual skin cancer checks. However, doctor visits and treatment for skin conditions like eczema are covered like any other medical condition.
If you have Medicare Advantage, you may also have access to discounts for over-the-counter cortisone creams and moisturizers. And benefits like SilverSneakers, which gets you access to fitness centers, can help you manage eczema-triggering stress. Compare plans and find the one that best fits your needs with our easy-to-use Find a Plan tool.
Find a Medicare plan in your area
It's FREE with no obligation