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Eczema is a chronic skin condition that can impact people of all ages. Brandon Bell/Getty Images
  • Eczema is a chronic condition that affects the skin and can cause unpleasant symptoms.
  • Predicting eczema development could be helpful in prevention and effective treatment planning.
  • Study results shared at the 31st European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology (EADV) Congress found a non-invasive skin immune biomarker test could help doctors predict babies’ likelihood of developing eczema.

Eczema is a chronic skin condition that often causes dry, itchy skin. It is prevalent among children and adults.

Experts are still researching how to best predict the development of eczema to aid in prevention and treatment.

Results from a new study shared at the 31st European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology (EADV) Congress unveiled a non-invasive test that may help predict eczema development in babies.

Eczema can impact people of all ages.

Genetics and factors in a person’s environment can increase the risk of eczema development. However, it is still unclear what exactly causes eczema.

There are different types of eczema, but one of the most common types is atopic dermatitis.

Dr. Alpana Mohta, a certified dermatologist and medical advisor for BetterGoods.org who was not involved in the study, explained to Medical News Today:

“In pediatric cases, the most prevalent form of eczema is AD [atopic dermatitis]. According to the National Eczema Association, approximately 9.6 million children under the age of 18 in the United States have atopic dermatitis (AD), with one-third suffering from moderate to severe conditions. Since 1997, the prevalence of childhood AD has risen dramatically from 8% to 15% [and] 80% of those with AD develop the disease before the age of six years.”

Eczema often involves dry and itchy skin with rashes breaking out on body areas like the face and hands.

Treatment focuses on reducing symptoms and preventing further flare-ups.

One complication of eczema is skin infections. Mohta noted a few treatment options that are available:

Taking steps to prevent itchy skin in the first place is the key step in managing it. This can be accomplished by following a good moisturizing regimen and taking antihistaminic prescription drugs as directed. Other measures include avoiding triggers, using low pH skin cleansers, putting on a cold compress, making your baby wear natural, breathable, and soft fabrics which are hypoallergenic, using wet wrap therapy, and caramide-based cream or lotion.

Early identification and diagnosis can aid in effective treatment. Some experts have focused their research efforts on ways to predict eczema development.

The results of the study, shared at the EADV Congress in September, involved 450 children. This number included 300 term newborns and 150 preterm newborns.

Depending on the findings, researchers followed participants up to 2 years of age.

The researchers utilized tape strips to collect skin samples to test for skin biomarkers. In term children, they collected skin samples from the cheek and back of the hand within the first few days of life and again at 2 months. In preterm children, they collected the samples from between the shoulder blades within the first month of life and also from the cheek at 2 months.

T​he researchers reported that the specific immune biomarker, Thymus and Activation-Regulated Chemokine (TARC), was a key predictor of atopic dermatitis. If this biomarker’s level was high, babies had a higher chance of developing atopic dermatitis.

At the two-month marker, elevated TARC levels were associated with the onset of atopic dermatitis before 24 months, particularly among term participants. F​or preterm babies, elevated TARC levels had a borderline significant association with atopic dermatitis. Among term infants, elevated levels of the biomarkers interleukin 8 and interleukin 18 were associated with developing moderate to severe atopic dermatitis.

This identification method could be useful in diagnosing and preventing eczema, particularly because it is a simple and non-invasive testing method.

Dr. Anne-Sofie Halling, a study author with the Department of Dermatology and Venereology at Bispebjerg Hospital in Denmark, explained the study’s significance to MNT:

“Our findings of predictive immune biomarkers collected at 2 months of age will help identify children at the highest risk of atopic eczema using a non-invasive and painless method, so future preventive strategies can target these children only and prevent cases of this common disease that so many children are suffering from.”

Due to the sample size and methods, experts say further research is needed to confirm the study’s findings and the effectiveness of this diagnostic method.

T​he results of this particular study have not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Researchers would like to acknowledge that the lead author of the research is Professor Jacob P. Thyssen at Bispebjerg Hospital and that the study received funding from the Lundbeck Foundation.

Researchers performed their non-invasive testing method in close collaboration with Sanja Kezic from Coronel Institute of Occupational Health, Amsterdam who is an expert in analyzing tape strips.

Halling was excited about the opportunities this testing method could provide in the future:

“Identifying these biomarkers is crucial for preventing atopic eczema in the future; there are currently several clinical trials on preventive strategies in atopic eczema. One recent Irish clinical trial (STOP AD trial) found that daily application of emollients during the first 8 weeks of life in children with a family history of eczema, asthma, or rhinitis significantly decreased the incidence of atopic eczema. These findings support that there is an open window of opportunity in the first few months where successful intervention may reduce the risk of atopic eczema, and it is also at this age we were able to identify immune biomarkers that predicted the development of atopic eczema.”