The skin rash atopic dermatitis, also known as eczema, is estimated to affect a third of all people in the United States. It is mostly found in dry climates and in cities. Eczema is often triggered by stress, pollen, pollution, allergens, extreme temperatures, irritants, or certain foods such as nuts, but these are not causes of the condition. It’s not really clear what does cause the condition, but there is a hereditary component—people who have a parent with eczema are more likely to develop it themselves—and there is evidence that it can be an autoimmune condition in some cases.
Experts say eczema can have a surprising effect on patients: it is associated with a heightened risk of self-harm. Although self-harm is normally associated with mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety eczema is one of a number of physical illnesses that also raise the risk. Self-harm is often something people turn to as a distraction or displacement, and something along those lines may be the responsible mechanism—self-injury as a distraction from the effects of eczema.
Eczema is also a risk factor for bone fractures in adults. The actual culprit is largely not the dermatitis itself but the treatments and coping mechanisms many patients use. People with eczema often have trouble sleeping, due to the discomfort the disease causes, and this can result in fatigue, which in turn leads to injury. Additionally, patients often use sleep aids to help overcome this, or antihistamines to alleviate the itching, and these can also cause daytime drowsiness. However, researchers have found that even among people with fatigue and sleep deprivation symptoms during the day, those with eczema were more prone to injury, suggesting an additional mechanism at work.
That’s why researchers are looking into the possibility of less-drastic treatment measures that can relieve the itching without the undesirable side effects. Rather than antihistamines or steroids, doctors are looking for other solutions to the pain. One approach, tested successfully on pediatric patients, is wet wrap therapy. This treatment, involving mild topical medication applied to wet skin, has actually been around for more than 25 years, but has not been widely studied.