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ECZEMA: Are We Just Scratching The Surface?

  • Dermatology services under-provisioned by 20%[i] - is a lack of understanding about atopic dermatitis (eczema) contributing to the pressure?
  • 50-70% of children with early onset eczema are sensitised to one or more allergens[ii] – could untreated eczema be playing a part in the allergy epidemic?
  • 44% of people with no previous affiliation with allergy do not recognise eczema as a key symptom[iii] – could this be why we are seeing an increase in allergic disease? 

To mark the start of Allergy Awareness Week, statistics and information released by national charity Allergy UK highlights the importance of recognising the link between eczema and allergy.  

It has been estimated that up to 15 million people in the UK could be living with eczema[iv]. Information shows that in 2015, GPs in England wrote about 27 million prescriptions for the topical agents used in the treatment of atopic dermatitis (eczema) at a cost of approximately £169 million[v].

Eczema is a common skin condition in infants but can also occur in older children and adults. Research informs us that where there is a breakdown of the skin barrier this can lead to exposure of allergens via the skin which may result in sensitisation (production of IgE antibodies) and the development of an allergy. Around 50-70% of children with eczema become sensitised to one or more allergens, typically food allergens such as egg and nut and airborne allergens such as house dust mite.

Amena Warner, Head of Clinical Services at Allergy UK said “It is important for both patients and healthcare professionals to understand the connection between atopic eczema and allergy. Eczema is a common symptom which can be ‘triggered’ by irritants and allergens as well as from a genetic tendency of dry skin. As well as a symptom, it can also be the gateway to allergic sensitisation, so when the body is exposed to that allergen there is a potential for a reaction. Protecting the skin barrier can help to reduce the risk of becoming sensitised to allergens.

If you are concerned that you or your child may have the signs and symptoms of eczema which includes an intense itch, areas of dry, sensitive, red or inflamed skin it is important to discuss these with a Healthcare Professional, the first point of contact is the GP who should make a visual assessment and take a detailed history. Having an accurate and timely diagnosis is important for effective management of eczema and maintaining the skin barrier.”

Allergy UK recommends that even when eczema skin appears to be in good condition that emollient use is continued to replace the moisture in already dry skin and reduce the risk of eczema flares where the skin becomes inflamed and itchy.  

Protecting the skin barrier from an early age could reduce the risk of allergic disease developing through skin sensitisation and with around 1.7million school children already suffering from eczema in the UK[vi] and prevalence of allergy amongst children showing a steady increase, awareness of how to recognise and treat eczema is crucial.

Natalie Newman, mother of Calum, aged 5, said “Calum’s multiple allergies started from a really early age. His eczema was one of the key indicators that something wasn’t right. It took a long time for us to get a diagnosis and Calum now has to avoid 15 foods plus reduce exposure to multiple airborne triggers. His eczema still causes him a lot of distress when he experiences a bad flare up. I cannot stress how important it is for new parents to track their child’s symptoms and discuss them with their GP. Earlier diagnosis can mean a lot less suffering.”

There are also social and emotional implications that come with this physical condition. With eczema being apparent in the most visible places for adults (52% have their head and neck affected, 50% have their hands affected)[vii], it can affect their self-confidence and easily lead to social isolation. In children eczema is more common around wrists, inside the crease of arms and behind the knees. The itch can be severe enough to interfere with sleep causing tiredness and inability to concentrate at school or work.

Allergy UK is urging all parents whose children are showing signs of eczema, to discuss their child’s symptoms with their doctor or nurse as they may need to be referred to a specialist. The charity is also highlighting the importance of protecting the skin barrier through regular use of emollients. See our factsheet on atopic dermatitis/eczema for more advice.

Join the conversation on Twitter and Facebook by using #ScratchingTheSurface.

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Press enquiries:

For further information, please contact the Communications team at Allergy UK.

Tel: 01322 611 655 or email: press@allergyuk.org 

Notes to Editors 

Case studies and spokespeople available upon request.

[i] House of Commons. Health Committee. Written evidence from the British Association of Dermatologists (LTC 89). May, 2013.

[ii] S. Nutten. ‘Atopic Dermatitis: Global Epidemiology and Risk Factors’. Annuals of Nutrition and Metabolism 2015; 66 (suppl 1):8–16

[iii] Data taken from Allergy Awareness Week 2016 survey conducted by 4 media relations on behalf of Allergy UK

[iv] Figure based on 23% of predicted population of 65,110,000 people in 2015, Office for National Statistics – “The prevalence of AD is estimated to be 15–20% in children and 1–3% in adults” source: S. Nutten. ‘Atopic Dermatitis: Global Epidemiology and Risk Factors’. Annuals of Nutrition and Metabolism 2015; 66 (suppl 1):8–16

[v] Data obtained from Health and Social Care Information Centre. Prescription cost analysis. England 2015. April 2016.

[vi] Nursing Children and Young People: Jackie Cosh, 2016, 28(2):9-9, Understanding the effects of eczema

[vii] Chaplin, Steve. ‘Guide to treatments used for atopic dermatitis in adults’. October, 2016. Online access: http://www.prescriber.co.uk/article/guide-treatments-used-atopic-dermatitis-adults/

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