Is Eczema ‘on the rise’?
A Daily Telegraph story back in 2009 reported that ‘cases of the painful skin condition eczema have risen more than 40 per cent in just four years’1
In 2018 the British Skin Foundation published an article stating that ‘1 in every 5 children in the UK is affected by eczema at some stage. It may also start later in life in people who did not have AE (atopic eczema) as a child.’2 So why the uptick in this distressing disease?
Atopic Eczema is a complex condition, and the treatment options tend to be equally complex, and highly personalized to an individual’s needs.
People with eczema typically have an over active immune / inflammatory response in the skin, reacting to seemingly innocuous environmental factors such as soaps, detergents and make-up, but may also be hyper-reactive to exposure to allergens, infections, dust – causing the common symptoms of itching, inflammation and soreness. It’s thoroughly distressing.
Typically, symptoms may become worse and then improve over time, making it frustrating to know when or how to treat an outbreak, or to identify ‘triggers’ to the root causes.
Eczema is known to have a genetic component – if your parents have or had eczema, there is an increased likelihood that so will you.
Eczema, and other related immune problems such as hay fever, asthma and food allergies were seemingly rare even 30 or 40 years ago – so why are we seeing a rise in cases now? Some experts blame ‘modern living’.
Between the 1950s and the 1980s, the number of people suffering from asthma, hay fever and eczema ‘increased substantially’. Some pointed to reduction in air quality, but conversely, air quality in the UK (overall) has actually been getting better since the days of city smog.
Three common factors seem to be widely agreed upon.
1. The advice of allergy specialists that infants should avoid consumption of potentially allergenic foodstuffs seems to have been wrong, and may actually have contributed to the rise in frequency and strength of allergic responses we see today.
2. Lack of exposure to ‘the natural environment’. We are complex creatures, and the bacteria and fungi and viruses that make up the environment on our skin, and in our intestines, has been increasingly recognised as vital to a healthy life. Prof Graham Rook, an immunologist at University College London’s Centre for Clinical Microbiology, explains that the “crucial thing is contact with green space and the natural environment, and avoidance of antibiotics, and of things that limit that transmission of maternal microbiota to the infant. And we need a varied diet with many different fruits and vegetables, because these things maintain the biodiversity of the microbiota.”
3. Thirdly, and perhaps most surprisingly, ‘urban life’ associated with a lack of exposure to sunlight (again, the ‘natural environment’) has been identified as a marker of increased likelihood of allergic response. Levels of urbanization seem to be increasingly one of the strongest predictors for the likelihood of developing allergies, including eczema, both now, and for the future.
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