ATOPIC DERMATITIS AND RELATED DISEASES

Some diseases are closely linked to atopic dermatitis. It’s good for people living with this condition to have this information so that they can be on the lookout for early signs, as well as how to lower their risk, when possible. Having this knowledge can also help your doctor make the most appropriate recommendations for you.

Allergic diseases

Some of the most common conditions associated with atopic dermatitis are allergic diseases like asthma, hay fever and food allergies, especially for children.1-4 This should come as no surprise as they share a common root cause in an overactive immune system.1-6 Over half of those with atopic dermatitis have or will develop asthma or hay fever, and as nearly 70% of patients with atopic dermatitis have a family history of allergies, their risk of allergic disease will persist, regardless of whether or not their atopic dermatitis goes into remission.1

Learning to suspect these conditions is important, as having an associated allergic disease tends to worsen the underlying atopic dermatitis.2-4 Diagnosing these diseases allows your doctor to start appropriate treatment, resulting in a better outcome overall.2-5

Look for signs of repeated reactions to certain allergens, like dust, pollen or specific foods.5,6 People with allergies might get a rash, itchiness, a runny nose or watery eyes, difficulty of breathing or wheezing, swelling around the eyes or lips, or diarrhea.5,6 Mild symptoms can wait for a scheduled doctor’s visit, but if there is difficulty breathing or swallowing, get to an emergency room immediately.6

Infections

Atopic dermatitis increases the risk for infections, and not just skin infections, but other types of infections like ear infections, sinus infections, pneumonia, infectious diarrheas and urinary tract infections as well.1,2,4 Atopic dermatitis is associated with an abnormal immune response, lower defenses against invading germs, and are sometimes taking immune-suppressing medication, all of which are risk factors for infections.4

Skin infections are particularly common and can be hard to spot, but if your flare treatment doesn’t work or if the rash and swelling keeps getting worse, then these are signs that this might be an infection.7 Some skin infections can become life-threatening, especially in children, if left untreated, so make sure to contact your doctor as soon as you suspect something.1,2,5

Heart disease, hypertension, and other lifestyle diseases

Studies show that people with atopic dermatitis tend to be more obese, smoke cigarettes and drink alcohol, and engage in less physical activity than others.2,3,8 All of these factors increase the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes.2,3,8 Now, it’s not clear if these lifestyle choices are the main reason why atopic dermatitis is associated with these conditions or if other factors like immune mechanisms or chronic inflammation are involved.2,3,8

Whatever the case may be, the bottom line is that these conditions increase the burden of disease in someone with atopic dermatitis, so it’s a good idea to try and avoid them if possible, and to treat them appropriately if they are already present.2,3,8 Lowering your risk for these diseases includes making better choices like eating healthy, exercising regularly, avoiding cigarettes or too much alcohol, getting regular check-ups and enough sleep.9

Sleep disturbances and mental disorders

Speaking of sleep, there is a well-known association between atopic dermatitis and sleep disturbances.2-4,8 This is a particular problem for children with atopic dermatitis, where the itchiness and discomfort of atopic dermatitis can lead to significant sleep deficits, which can affect their growth, performance in school, ability to learn and function, and exacerbate mental and psychological problems. 2-4,8 In addition to sleep disturbances, atopic dermatitis in children is also associated with other neuropsychiatric disorders, like ADHD and autism. 4,8

Atopic dermatitis is also associated with depression and anxiety in patients of any age.2-4,8 The psychological burden of the disease can even lead to suicidal thoughts.2,8 An appreciation for this association and focus on maintaining mental health is very important, as mental state directly impacts ability to cope with the disease, as well as how effectively the condition can be managed at home.2-4,8 In fact, one of the reasons why early diagnosis and treatment of atopic dermatitis is so important, as effective treatment and education about the disease can minimize its effect on mental health.2,4

If at any time you are concerned that someone with atopic dermatitis is experiencing mental issues, help them open a discussion with their doctor. 2-4,8 In some cases, consult with a psychiatric specialist or specific medication may be needed to treat them effectively.4

Other conditions

Some studies show possible links with a host of other disorders, including eye diseases, autoimmune disorders, and even cancer.3,8 However, the connections are as yet not conclusive.3,8 Whatever the case, regular check-ups are important. Be sure to take note of any new symptoms, no matter how seemingly innocent, and discuss them with your doctor to get the right advice.

References:

  1. Correale C.E., Walker C., Murphy, L. & Craig, G.J. (1999). Atopic dermatitis: a review of diagnosis and treatment. Am Fam Physician, 60(4), 1191-1198. https://www.aafp.org/afp/1999/0915/p1191.html
  2. Ghamrawi R.I., Ghaim, N. & Wu, J.J. (2020). “Atopic dermatitis: a review of common comorbidities”. Practical Dermatology. https://practicaldermatology.com/articles/2020-sept/atopic-dermatitis-a-review-of-common-comorbidities (Accessed October 26, 2021)
  3. Rodrigues, T. (2019) “Expert Roundtable: Comorbidities in Atopic Dermatitis”. Dermatology Advisor. https://www.dermatologyadvisor.com/home/topics/dermatitis/expert-roundtable-comorbidities-in-atopic-dermatitis/ (Accessed October 26, 2021)
  4. Silverberg, J.I. (2020). Comorbidities and the impact of atopic dermatitis. Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol, 123(2), 144-151. https://www.annallergy.org/article/S1081-1206(19)30319-9/pdf
  5. Siegfried, E.C. & Hebert, A.A. (2015). Diagnosis of atopic dermatitis: mimics, overlaps and complications. J Clin Med, 4(5), 884-917. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4470205/
  6. Felman, A. (2020). Reviewed by Meth M. “Everything you need to know about allergies”. Medical News Today. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/264419 (Accessed October 26, 2021)
  7. Nelson, A. (2021). Reviewed by Gardner, S.S. “Skin Infection”. WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/skin-infection-signs (Accessed October 26, 2021)
  8. Andersen Y.M.F., Egeberg, A., Skov, L. & Thyssen, J.P. (2017). Comorbidities of atopic dermatitis: beyond rhinitis and asthma. Curr Dermatol Rep, 6(1), 35-41. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5556128/
  9. National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. (2021). “How You Can Prevent Chronic Diseases”. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/chronicdisease/about/prevent/index.htm (Accessed October 26, 2021)

MAT-MY-2101515 (12/2021)

Health information contained herein is provided for general educational purposes only. Your healthcare professional is the single best source of information regarding your health. Please consult your healthcare professional if you have any questions about your health or treatment.