Researchers are studying the role of climate change in influencing environmental factors that affect the development and severity of atopic dermatitis (AD).

AD is the most common type of eczema, which is a chronic, inflammatory skin condition that causes itching and other symptoms.

Genetic, immune, and environmental factors play a role in the development of AD. Certain environmental triggers may also cause symptoms to worsen in people living with this condition.

Although more research is necessary, scientists have reported that climate change may indirectly affect AD by influencing the environmental factors that contribute to the symptoms. Climate change involves shifting patterns in temperature, humidity, precipitation, wind, and extreme weather events. These changes, in turn, affect ecologies around the world.

Read on to learn more about the potential connections between climate change and AD.

Both hot and cold weather extremes can cause flares in those with AD. Some people with the condition have worse symptoms during the warmer seasons, when sweating may irritate the skin. Other people have worse symptoms when their skin is drier, which is typically during the colder seasons.

It is possible that climate change-related shifts in temperature may cause AD symptoms to get better or worse, although researchers still need to confirm this link.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reports that 2020 was the second warmest year on record in the world. The organization also points out that all 10 of the warmest years on record have occurred since 2005.

Some people with AD have a sensitivity or allergy to certain plant pollens. Exposure to those pollens may trigger a flare of AD symptoms.

Plants tend to produce more pollen in warmer temperatures, and pollen season also tends to start earlier when the temperature is warmer than usual. Therefore, climate change-related temperature increases may raise pollen levels. This may worsen the symptoms of AD in people for whom pollen is a trigger.

Air pollution from wildfires may also worsen the symptoms of AD.

According to a 2021 study in San Francisco, dermatology clinic visits for AD and itch increased during the 2018 California Camp Fire. Compared with non-fire weeks, these clinic visits increased by 15% for adults and 49% for children.

The Fourth National Climate Assessment (NCA4) found that large wildfires have become more common in the United States since the early 1980s. The NCA4 reports that climate change creates warmer and drier conditions that raise the risk of wildfires.

In a recent study in Taiwan, researchers linked floods to an increased risk of emergency department visits for AD among children. Floods increase the amount of mold in the environment, which may trigger a flare of symptoms in some people with AD.

More research is necessary to learn how climate change affects the risk of flooding. The NCA4 found that some classes of floods have become more frequent in the U.S. while others have become less frequent.

AD is more common now than it was in the past. Experts do not know exactly why, but one theory is the “biodiversity hypothesis.”

According to this theory, AD may be becoming more common as a result of decreased biodiversity. Many people live in environments with fewer types of microorganisms, which include fungi, bacteria, viruses, and parasites.

This lack of biodiversity may negatively affect the development of the immune system, causing people to become more sensitive to potential allergy triggers and raising their risk of conditions such as AD.

Climate change is one of many factors that affect biodiversity.

Extreme weather events and other climate change outcomes can be stressful and negatively affect mental health, according to the American Psychiatric Association.

Increased stress, which is a common trigger of flares in AD, may worsen the symptoms that people experience.

Anyone who suspects that they have AD or another type of eczema should make an appointment with a healthcare professional to develop a treatment plan.

A doctor may prescribe one or more of the following treatments for eczema:

  • regular bathing with gentle cleansers
  • regular application of moisturizer
  • bleach baths
  • wet wrap therapy
  • medication
  • light therapy

Identifying and limiting triggers may also help reduce the symptoms of eczema. Some climate change-related triggers may be easier to manage than others.

If warm weather or sweat is a trigger, people can minimize its effects by :

  • limiting their exertion on hot days
  • spending time in air-conditioned spaces
  • wearing lightweight and breathable clothing

If pollen, smoke, or mold is a trigger, people can try:

  • wearing a face mask and limiting their time outdoors when pollen, smoke, or mold levels are high
  • showering and changing their clothes after coming in from outdoor spaces with pollen, smoke, or mold
  • closing all windows and doors when inside
  • installing a HEPA air filtration system

Taking steps to manage stress is also important. If stress is negatively affecting a person’s health, their doctor may refer them to a mental health specialist for support.

More research is necessary to build a full understanding of the effects of climate change on eczema. However, climate change may influence environmental factors that raise a person’s risk of developing eczema. In people who have eczema, it may affect factors that increase their risk of flares.

For example, rising temperatures may worsen or reduce symptoms in some people. Higher pollen levels, more wildfires, and changes in flooding patterns may also affect the symptoms.

Getting treatment for eczema is important for managing the condition. Identifying and limiting triggers can also help people manage the condition.