Disease trajectories in childhood atopic dermatitis: an update and practitioner's guide

Br J Dermatol. 2019 Nov;181(5):895-906. doi: 10.1111/bjd.17766. Epub 2019 May 15.


Background: Atopic dermatitis (AD) is a heterogeneous disease with a multifactorial aetiology and complex pathophysiology. This heterogeneity translates into different trajectories of disease progression with respect to severity, persistence and risk of development of atopic comorbidities. Determining which possible disease trajectories or comorbidities any individual child might develop is challenging in clinical practice. Tools that help identify paediatric patients at higher risk of disease progression would greatly aid clinicians.

Methods: We reviewed recent cohort studies to synthesize and simplify the epidemiological data to try to identify shared clinically relevant characteristics that may help physicians estimate the risk of disease progression in paediatric patients with AD.

Results: Despite the variability in data collection and methods of analysis and their limitations, there are common patterns of early-childhood AD that may aid in the estimation of risk for disease progression. Factors associated with risk of AD progression include younger age of onset, family history of atopy, greater AD severity, filaggrin mutations, urban environment and polysensitization and/or allergic multimorbidity. Based on these factors, we provide a practitioner's guide for identifying, counselling and/or referring infants and children with AD at potentially higher risk of developing persistent AD and atopic comorbidities. We also present clinical scenarios to illustrate how these data relate to real-life situations.

Conclusions: Useful insights are provided for physicians and patients to inform them better about the risk of AD progression and to help guide care pathways for the paediatric population with AD. What's already known about this topic? The complex pathophysiology of atopic dermatitis (AD) translates into a heterogeneous clinical presentation and trajectories of disease progression. Although the consensus is that most paediatric patients with AD will eventually 'outgrow' the disease or follow the longitudinal trajectory known as the 'atopic march', a significant proportion will develop persistent AD and/or other atopic conditions. No known factors conclusively predict the risk of progression or development of comorbidities. What does this study add? Recent analyses of data from large cohorts of paediatric patients with AD have suggested the existence of potentially discrete clusters of patients who present with relatively common AD phenotypes. These studies have shed some light onto the factors associated with risk of progression, which we review in this article. A practitioner's guide with clinical scenarios is provided to help identify patients at high risk of progression to determine whether a patient should be monitored and/or would require specialist referral.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Child
  • Comorbidity
  • Dermatitis, Atopic / diagnosis*
  • Dermatitis, Atopic / epidemiology
  • Dermatitis, Atopic / therapy
  • Dermatology / methods
  • Dermatology / standards*
  • Disease Progression
  • Filaggrin Proteins
  • Humans
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic*
  • Risk Factors
  • Severity of Illness Index