A new study has shed light on the fact that infants who develop eczema, a condition that makes the skin dry and itchy, are more susceptible to food allergies, hay fever and asthma as they grow older, a progression known as the atopic march.
The findings of the study published in the journal ‘Science Translational Medicine’ identifies itching and dry cracked skin of eczema patients as a significant promoter of the atopic march.
“When food particles are introduced through the skin rather than the digestive system, they are much more likely to cause allergies,” said Dr. Donald Leung, head of Pediatric Allergy and Clinical Immunology at National Jewish Health.
“Cracks in the skin of those with eczema often set off a chain of allergic diseases that develop over several years,” Dr. Leung added.
The skin forms an important barrier, keeping moisture in and external allergens or microbes out.
“Restoring the skin barrier as soon as eczema develops is the best way to stop the atopic march in its tracks and prevent allergic diseases from developing,” said Dr. Leung.
Researchers have also shown that patients with eczema lack important proteins and lipids in the outer layers of their skin. As a result of eczema patients’ defective skin barrier, water escapes from the skin, drying it out and leading to cracking and itching.
Further scratching the dry, itchy skin of eczema patients can damage the skin barrier and activate the immune system. Even food particles entering the body through cracks in the skin can trigger an allergic response that leads to food allergy.
Once that allergic response has been triggered, the immune system is primed to develop not only eczema and food allergies, but also hay fever and asthma.
During such conditions, experts recommend what they call “soak and seal,” which involves thoroughly moisturizing the skin in a warm bath, then trapping the moisture in with a moisturizing ointment.
Dr. Leung believes that careful care of a baby’s skin right from birth could prevent eczema and other allergic diseases.