Updated on April 11, 2023
Eczema or atopic dermatitis is an umbrella term for various inflammatory skin conditions that affect around 10 percent of individuals worldwide. The targeted age group for eczema is early childhood which may linger as they grow. It is a group of inflammatory conditions characterized by inflamed, itchy, red rashes on light skin tones. While eczema is multi-factorial, several etiological factors including autoimmunity might contribute to the onset of symptoms.
Understanding whether or not, Is eczema an autoimmune disease is essential to draw out the possible triggers that elicit hyper-immunity or autoimmune response. There are several treatment options available to manage unwanted eczema flares. Identifying what works best for every individual depends on the severity of the symptoms. Additionally, enrolling in patient-centered clinical trials for a better treatment approach is another option most people don’t look up to.
This blog walks through the possible causes of eczema, the notion that is eczema an autoimmune disease, the interlink between inflammatory conditions, and much more.
What Is Eczema?
The term eczema refers to a wide variety of inflammatory skin conditions coupled together under one domain. With each subtype of eczema, certain characteristics such as dry, flaky, and itchy skin present differently as rashes, scaly patches, blisters, and skin infections.
The commonly reported forms of eczema are:
- Atopic dermatitis
- Contact dermatitis
- Dyshidrotic eczema
- Nummular eczema
- Seborrheic dermatitis
- Stasis dermatitis
Causes of Eczema
The exact cause of eczema is not known, making it difficult to confirm whether is eczema an autoimmune disease. Research suggests that atopic dermatitis or atopic eczema is the most common form of eczema found in individuals with autoimmune diseases or may itself be an autoimmune disorder. The symptoms of which first appear around 5 years of age in about 90% of the cases. In addition to eczema, several other skin conditions induce itching and scratching, a characteristic hallmark of skin inflammation. This not only adversely affects the quality of life but also impacts mental well-being.
Is Eczema an Autoimmune Disease or an Inflammatory Response?
To identify whether is eczema an autoimmune disease or an allergic reaction, one needs to watch out for other possibilities of skin disorders. A list of factors that set off inflammatory flares in individuals vulnerable to eczema are:
In a few instances, consuming fried foods, carbonated drinks, red meat, and refined carbs might induce eczema flares. Therefore, keeping track of diet can help clear up skin.
In addition to an increased likelihood of cancer and other health conditions in smokers, people who smoke tobacco or are exposed to secondhand smoke are twice more likely to get eczema than those who don’t. A smoking cessation plan or nicotine replacement therapy can help minimize eczema flares.
An allergen is a substance inducing an allergic reaction. Allergens that most likely trigger eczema are, scented soaps, chemicals, cosmetics, household cleaners, dust mites, pollen, nickel, and other metals. The best way to avoid an allergic reaction is to avoid exposure to allergens or administer an allergy shot.
A sound sleep cycle of 7-8 hours a day is essential for the proper functioning and tackling mechanism of the body. Individuals struggling with poor sleep cycles heighten the risk of inflammation. Therefore it is important to get a good night’s sleep to stay away from infections and allergies.
The relationship between stress and eczema is complex and poorly understood. According to studies, stress leads to the release of various hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline in larger-than-normal amounts. This, however, exacerbates eczema symptoms drastically. The key to keeping exacerbations at bay is by steering away stressful thoughts, exercising, meditation, and counseling therapy.
In general, an inflammatory response isn’t always a bad thing. Instead, inflammation is the positive response of an immune system to an injury or infection. This involves the release of antibodies and proteins, as well as increased blood flow to the damaged area. The counter-mechanism helps fight back germs and promotes healing from cuts and other injuries.
But with eczema, the immune system constantly overreacts to typically harmless substances in the environment resulting in a state of chronic inflammation. Over time, persistent inflammation damages the skin barrier, leaving it red and itchy.
A Sign Of Compromised Immunity: Is Eczema An Autoimmune Disease?
While some people with eczema may have immune dysfunction, it is important to note that having a chronic inflammatory disease like eczema is not necessarily a sign of weak immunity. Many people with eczema spend normal healthy lives with an otherwise over-reactive immune system which leads to inflammation and other symptoms of the condition.
Eczema Autoimmune Disease: A Stress-Induced Condition
Is eczema an autoimmune disease or a stress-induced condition? The answer to this varies from case to case. Every individual is different, reacting differently to triggers capable of an outbreak of red, itchy rashes on the skin. Stress, however, is the most common triggering factor of eczema. The connection between stress and eczema is such that it causes a spike in various hormones such as cortisol (stress hormone) and adrenaline. The influence of hormones leads to flares in people with eczema. Not only does stress cause eczema, but it can also prolong eczema outbreaks, resulting in a seemingly vigorous stress-eczema cycle. Therefore, bypassing stress and other triggers is the key to reducing eczema flares.
Common in Asthmatics:
Is eczema an autoimmune disease that is always found in asthmatics? Asthma and eczema are both linked to inflammation caused by a strong reaction to environmental allergens and genetic mutations. While eczema is often associated with other allergic conditions such as asthma and allergic rhinitis, it is not always found in asthmatics.
The physiological mechanism behind the co-existence is attributed to an over-reactive immune response to certainly harmless substances and an increased release of cytokines and histamines. The release of histamine is responsible for classic allergy symptoms such as:
- Runny nose
- Nasal congestion
- Itchy skin
- Hives and skin rashes
- Itchy and watery eyes
Is Eczema An Autoimmune Disease That Is Same As Contact Dermatitis?
Eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis is not the same as contact dermatitis. The two conditions share much in common and may be triggered by similar factors but have a different underlying cause.
- Unlike other chronic inflammatory skin conditions, eczema is characterized by dry, itchy, inflamed skin and is triggered by a combination of factors (environmental, genetic, immune dysfunction) including stress, allergens, and irritants.
- Contact dermatitis on the other hand is a type of skin inflammation that occurs when the skin comes into contact with things like soaps, detergents, cosmetics, and certain plants.
Is Eczema An Autoimmune Disease That Is Curable?
Eczema currently has no cure but a comprehensive treatment approach and self-care can help manage the condition. However, the goal of treatment is exclusively directed at the management of the immune system’s response to reduce inflammation, relieve itching and prevent infection.
Treatment for eczema often begins with preventive management and self-care measures to control itching and help repair skin damage. As the disease progresses, potential treatments may need to be tested to find the best possible cure.
The most commonly available treatment options for eczema are:
- Topical corticosteriods
- Topical calcineurin inhibitors
- Light Therapy
Also read: What Causes Eczema Flare-ups?
Eczema and all other chronic inflammatory conditions can have a significant impact on an individual’s quality of life. However, with proper management, individuals with these conditions can achieve control of their symptoms and maintain healthy skin. To advance the course of care for atopic dermatitis, Revival Research Institute is a dedicated Clinical Research Organization in the US that is committed to conducting wide-spectrum dermatology clinical trials, to help people access new and innovative treatments for vulnerable skin conditions.