Atopic Dermatitis in Adults: A Diagnostic Challenge

J Investig Allergol Clin Immunol. 2017;27(2):78-88. doi: 10.18176/jiaci.0138. Epub 2017 Jan 10.


Atopic dermatitis (AD) has a prevalence of 1%-3% in adults. Adult-onset AD has only been defined recently, and lack of familiarity with this condition and confusion regarding the appropriate terminology persist. AD may first appear in childhood or de novo in adults and is characterized by pronounced clinical heterogeneity. The disease often deviates from the classic pattern of flexural dermatitis, and there are forms of presentation that are specific to adults, such as head-and-neck dermatitis, chronic eczema of the hands, multiple areas of lichenification, or prurigo lesions. Although diagnosis is clinical, adult-onset AD frequently does not fit the traditional diagnostic criteria for the disease, which were developed for children. Thus, AD is often a diagnosis of exclusion, especially in de novo cases. Additional diagnostic tests, such as the patch test, prick test, skin biopsy, or blood test, are usually necessary to rule out other diseases or other types of eczema appearing concomitantly with AD. This article presents an update of the different forms of clinical presentation for AD in adults along with a proposed diagnostic approach, as new treatments will appear in the near future and many patients will not be able to benefit from them unless they are properly diagnosed.

Keywords: Adult; Atopic dermatitis; Diagnosis; Patch testing; Prick testing.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Age Distribution
  • Age of Onset
  • Biomarkers / blood
  • Biopsy
  • Dermatitis, Atopic / blood
  • Dermatitis, Atopic / diagnosis*
  • Dermatitis, Atopic / epidemiology
  • Dermatitis, Atopic / immunology
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Immunologic Tests*
  • Incidence
  • Male
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Prevalence
  • Prognosis
  • Risk Factors
  • Skin* / immunology
  • Skin* / metabolism
  • Skin* / pathology


  • Biomarkers