Eczema and Asthma Link

inhaler-penreyes

Eczema or atopic dermatitis is a common skin disorder seen mostly in children. It is characterized by a red, scaly, itchy rash that can occur on the face, neck, arms, legs, and sometimes the trunk.

We have known for some time now that eczema, also called atopic dermatitis, is also associated with asthma and allergic rhinitis (hay fever). At least 50% of children with severe eczema also develop asthma. Research from the Washington University School of Medicine might shed light on why these diseases go together.

The research, published in the journal PLoS, found that in mice, eczema-damaged skin produced a substance called¬†thymic stromal lymphopoietin (TSLP). TSLP is a signal to the body that the skin has been damaged. When TSLP circulates through the blood, it elicits a powerful immune response.¬†As such, TSLP is your skin’s way of warning you that its protective barrier has been breached and that backup defenses are needed to keep you protected.

Similar to your skin, your lungs are in direct contact with your environment as well, although we don’t often think of it that way. Like skin, lungs are exposed to the air with all its potential pathogens such as bacteria and viruses. It is not hard to see how an inflammatory disease that affects the skin might also affect the lungs. This is exactly what researchers found — when TSLP from the damaged skin traveled in the bloodstream to the mice’s lungs, it triggered inflammation in the lungs (similar to an asthma attack in humans). The researchers believe that TSLP is the link between eczema and asthma.

Ideally, if a drug was developed that blocked the production of TSLP, this might be a way to prevent people with eczema from developing asthma later in life. It also suggests that minimizing damage to the skin can help limit production of TSLP and improve both eczema and asthma.

Photo: Penreyes (flickr)

How Many Friends Do You Have? I’ve Got a Few Trillion.

The next time you feel lonely, remember this: you always have a few friends with you. No, not your Tweeple, your bacteria.

You have lots of them with you at all times; so many in fact, you’re like a walking planet. There are far more microbes living in and on you then there are people on earth! According to an article in The Economist, there are 100 trillion microbes living with you — 10 times the number of cells you actually have (so technically, you’re 90% bacteria, 10% human).

We are only now starting to comprehend the importance of this relationship with our lowly microbe friends. The disease model used to be simple: If you are infected with bacteria, you are sick. If you are bacteria free, then you are healthy. Not so anymore.

In fact, it is probably more true that losing a few billion of your bacterial friends leads to sickness, rather than to health. A better health model is that it’s not important to be free of bacteria to be healthy; rather it is important to have the right balance of microorganisms living with you to be disease free.

The first place we are likely to see the importance of healthy bacteria in skin disease is in eczema. Eczema, or atopic dermatitis, is a chronic itchy rash that often occurs in childhood and can last for years. It appears that one of the problems in patients with eczema is that they have an overgrowth of unwanted bacteria and a loss of other, good or healthy bacteria. Restoring this bacterial balance might ironically calm the immune system, improving eczema.

Look for new therapies in the upcoming new year such as creams and probiotic pills that don’t kill bacteria, but rather give you good bacteria. Future technologies will likely be able to detect imbalances of bacteria to diagnose disease and to foster health. It’s also another example of how Eastern medicine, with its principles of balance and natural remedies, might have gotten it right all along.

Photo: Tom@HK flickr.com

Clothes to Soothe Itchy Skin

Just the mention of a wool sweater makes me itchy. For many people with chronic itchy skin conditions such as eczema, irritating fabrics like wool and polyester can trigger itching over their whole body. Now some (entrepreneurial) dermatologists have developed clothes designed to protect the skin.

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