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Eczema

How does genetics influence risk, severity, and treatment of eczema?

8 minute read

What is eczema?

Eczema, medically known as atopic dermatitis, is a condition where patches of skin become inflamed, itchy, red, cracked, and rough. It is most likely to develop during childhood however for some, this chronic condition surfaces later in life. Eczema can have a severe impact on people's lives and 2/3 of individuals who suffer from this disease say it interferes with daily activities like their job and household chores .

It affects around 1 in 5 children and it is estimated that a total of 15 million people in the UK and over 30 million people in the USA have the condition. Eczema can be extremely uncomfortable and difficult to live with; in fact nearly half of the people affected by this condition say they “often” or “always” are frustrated by their disease .

Atopic dermatitis can also affect your confidence and more than 1/3 people say they “often” or “always” feel embarrassed by their appearance or angry as a result of this condition . By understanding more about the genes that cause or influence eczema, we can find new ways to relieve symptoms, improve treatments and change the lives of those who suffer with it.

Symptoms of eczema

Eczema is most commonly found in the creases of the joints, such as the knee or elbow, but can also affect the face, hands and scalp. It most often affects younger children, however, symptoms can be experienced by people at any age.

Eczema can lead to a multitude of other health problems; for example, the itching due to dry, cracked skin can cause sleep problems, often leading to tiredness and irritability. Dyshidrotic eczema can also cause painful blistering on the hands and feet, increasing the risk of skin infections.

In addition to this, eczema can ‘flare up’ when skin is exposed to an allergen , which can make symptoms much worse. Therefore, it is important to know what allergens trigger these flare ups to find the best treatment. Common ‘triggers’ which can make eczema symptoms worse are:

Eczema Triggers

Common triggers which cause eczema flare ups

Irritants
Soaps, Detergents, Fabrics, Chemicals
Biological
Hormones, Skin infections, Stress
Environmental allergens
Dust mites, Pet fur, Hay fever
Food allergens
Cow's milk, Peanuts, Soya, Wheat, Eggs

Credits NHS

Prevention is the best protection when it comes to eczema, so avoiding your own ‘trigger’ is the key.

How to relieve the symptoms

Unfortunately, there is currently no cure for eczema but there are many things you can do to relieve the symptoms; Emollients: help soothe the skin, prevent itching and keep the skin moisturised. They also act as a protective barrier, keeping the affected area hydrated. Topical corticosteroids; medication which is applied directly to the skin to ease itching and inflammation, Antihistamines; medicines available from the pharmacist which come in a variety of forms including lotions, creams, capsules, tablets and syrups which relieve the symptoms of eczema. Understanding your ‘triggers’ is important to knowing which treatment works best for you.

Genetics and eczema

Eczema is caused by inherited genes so if your parents or siblings have eczema you are more likely to develop the condition. It occurs in people who are prone to allergies as Eczema is part of a group of hereditary conditions including hay fever, asthma and food allergies. If you have one of these conditions you are more likely to develop another. Atopic eczema has been associated with more than 100 different SNPs. Some of these are relatively rare in the population and greatly increase risk. For example, rs61813875 G/C, increases your chance of having eczema by 1.6x [4]. 1 in 50 people have this allele — find out if it’s hidden in your genome.

Other genetic variants add slightly less risk, but are more common. For example, rs72823641 ‘A’ allele is found in 13% of people, and increases the risk of Eczema by about 1.14x.

An even more common genetic variant, rs1438673 A/T, is present in about half of all people, and increases risk of eczema, hay fever, as well as asthma all by about 1.1x.

People with atopic dermatitis have a slightly increased likelihood of developing many other conditions related to inflammation and the immune system, including rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease and alopecia.

Conclusion

Eczema affects millions of people worldwide and in some cases has severe impact on people’s quality of life. Although there has been some research into how genetics are linked to eczema, this area is still largely unexplored. However, eczema is a condition which has been directly linked to an individuals genetics and although it is impacted by other factors such as environmental conditions, there is still a huge opportunity to conduct genetic research into this area. We at Sano Genetics are currently recruiting people affected by this condition for our brand new research study, with the aim to increase our understanding of the causes of psoriasis and eczema and to help develop better treatments. If you would like to take part, you can find out more here: https://sanogenetics.com/skin/.

Also, be sure to check out the latest story in our “Beating the Itch” blog series to find out more about how eczema affects confidence and more importantly how treatments can change lives. You can read Jennifer’s story here: https://sanogenetics.com/blog/beating-the-itch-jennifers-story

Image credit: Kalle Kortelainen - Unsplash

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