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The Undeniable Link and What It Means for Your Health
Asthma and eczema are both relatively common conditions, but they don’t appear to have too much in common with each other. After all, one is very clearly a problem with the skin, and the other specifically targets the lungs and airways. However, their relationship is much stronger than you might imagine — and it can threaten your whole-body health.
In plain terms, if you suffer from eczema, you have a higher risk of developing asthma, and vice versa. But the link isn’t always predictable, nor is the outcome. You have some control over how each condition manifests in your body, so take the time to learn about what the conditions have in common, and how to use that link to your advantage.
The Allergy Connection
Although asthma and eczema are different diseases, they do have one thing in common: both are intimately connected to allergies.
Viruses and exercise are common catalysts for asthma symptoms, but allergies play a big role, too. In fact, allergic asthma is the most prevalent type of asthma, and up to 80 percent of children with asthma also suffer from allergies like hay fever, or allergic reactions to irritants like dust and smoke.
Atopic dermatitis (the most common form of eczema) is also allergy-induced, but it isn’t caused by a specific allergy. Instead, this eczema tends to act up in the presence of allergic substances. The predictably dry, red, itchy rash commonly appears after exposure to allergens, like:
- Pet dander
- Rough clothing
- Irritating soaps
- Certain foods (especially dairy, nuts, soy and wheat)
When an allergic reaction is aggravating your eczema, it means your body is overreacting to substances that typically aren’t harmful. As a result, your skin breaks out in hives, swelling, redness and severely itchy patches.
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Not every type of eczema can be blamed on allergies. Dyshidrotic dermatitis and nummular dermatitis stem from other unknown causes, and contact dermatitis may or may not occur with the allergic variety. If you can’t find a pattern in your eczema outbreaks, or they don’t seem to come with allergies or asthma, you might be dealing with another type of skin condition.
The Genetic Link
Research has uncovered an undeniable link between asthma, eczema and family history: if one or both parents have eczema or asthma, their child is much more likely to develop eczema.
To make matters worse, children with eczema are also more likely to develop allergies and/or asthma. Both conditions are genetic and tend to occur in families with a history of atopic (or immune-related) diseases.
Trouble in Childhood
Eczema often manifests during childhood. Around 30 percent of infants will develop eczema by the six-month mark, and most will outgrow the skin condition by the age of five. However, experts point out that childhood eczema can be an early clue that an allergic process is at play, and 50 to 70 percent of children with severe atopic dermatitis will eventually develop asthma, whether or not their eczema improves or disappears.
Researchers have uncovered a specific gene defect that’s tied to atopic eczema and asthma, and it’s more common than you might imagine — up to 60 million people carry this defect that interferes with filaggrin production in your body. Filaggrin is a protein that prevents skin dryness (and may help to protect the lining of your airways), so without an adequate amount you can develop inflammation that leads to eczema and asthma symptoms.
The Progression of Allergic Conditions
Immune disorders like eczema and asthma don’t just occur together, they also manifest in a specific pattern. Experts call the build-up of immune disease the “atopic march” or “allergic march.”
More immune responses occur in childhood than in any other period in life, and the first one to pop up is often atopic eczema. The next to arise is usually seasonal allergies that affect the nose and sinuses (rhinitis) — this tends to start after age two. Finally, those who develop atopic eczema and seasonal allergies have a high risk of developing asthma in the years to come.
Keeping Asthma and Eczema in Check
Eczema may seem relatively mild, but it can get out of hand quickly. Extremely dry skin can crack and break, allowing all sorts of irritants and bacteria to invade through the skin. Not surprisingly, severe eczema can lead to infections, which can complicate treatment and make for a very uncomfortable time.
While you might not be able to change your immune response, there are ways to better protect your body against the allergens that cause you the most trouble.
Treat any atopic outbreak quickly and thoroughly. Whether it’s eczema, allergies or asthma that’s causing you problems, get a handle on the disorder with lifestyle changes and appropriate medication before it has a chance to progress into a complicated cluster of atopic conditions.
Reduce and avoid inflammation. Both asthma and eczema are associated with inflammation, or swelling. In the case of asthma the swelling is in the airways, and with eczema the swelling is in the skin. If you’re suffering from either eczema or asthma symptoms, make an effort to reduce inflammation by improving your diet (start by getting rid of sugar and trans fat), taking medication as prescribed, and using other therapies to reduce stress.
Know your triggers and practice good hygiene. Both asthma and eczema can react quickly and severely to triggers, so it’s important to know your triggers (and avoid them). Skin allergy tests can be helpful if you suspect a certain allergen is provoking your eczema, and a symptom journal is a great idea to track patterns of asthma symptoms and reactions. Keeping you and your surroundings clean can also do wonder when it comes to preventing breathing problems and skin eruptions.
Inflammatory conditions that seem to have a mind of their own are never fun to deal with, but they don’t have to overshadow your self-confidence, independence and happiness. The good news is, since there is such a strong connection between asthma and eczema, treating one may help to eradicate or prevent the other. Experts hope ongoing research will also help to find a single treatment that can help overcome a variety of atopic diseases swiftly and completely.