Eczema is an umbrella term that refers to a number of inflammatory skin conditions that result in rough, red, scaly rashes and itching. The most common form of eczema is atopic dermatitis (AD), which affects approximately 20% of children and 1%-3% of adults around the world, including about 16.5 million women and men in the United States.
Although some forms of eczema have no known cause other than genetics, AD is associated with allergies. You can identify your AD triggers, but it may be hard to avoid them, especially if they’re something that’s prevalent in the environment, such as dust mites or mold.
While many treatments exist for AD, it’s a chronic condition that therefore requires lifetime use of ointments, medications, and other therapies. However, taking medications can cause unwanted side effects. And using topical treatments sometimes leads to low compliance, due to their inconvenience.
At the Allergy and Asthma Institute, in North Atlanta, Georgia, our expert allergist Lakshmi Reddy, MD, recommends immunotherapy to select allergy and eczema patients. With immunotherapy, your doctor first determines your main triggers through allergy testing and then gradually exposes you to increasing doses of trigger substances to build up resistance.
Would your eczema respond to immunotherapy? Find out below.
One requirement for benefiting from immunotherapy is that your eczema is AD and not another type of eczema. With AD, your rashes occur after exposure to one or more allergens. Common allergens that trigger AD flares include:
If you have AD, the first step toward immunotherapy is allergy testing. In this way, Dr. Reddy identifies all of your potential triggers so she knows which substances to use in your allergy shots.
For mild cases of AD, simply adopting new habits such as bathing or showering in tepid, not hot, water and using moisturizers may help. So can avoiding triggers, such as pollen. But that may not be sufficient.
The next step is to try medicated ointments and creams such as those containing corticosteroids or calcineurin inhibitors. However, overuse of these products can lead to complications, such as thinning skin. You also must apply them twice a day, before moisturizing, which may be inconvenient.
In addition, your doctor may prescribe medications to control your symptoms. Oral corticosteroids and injectable biologics can have side effects and must be used with care. Light therapy, too, may have long-term consequences, including accelerated skin aging.
Even if you respond to conventional treatments, you may not wish to continue these therapies long term. If you’d like to lessen your reliance on drugs and simplify your daily routine, you may benefit from immunotherapy.
When your AD is triggered by substances that abound in the environment, such as pollen and dust mites, it can be impossible to fully avoid them. Mold, too, is a common allergen that’s hard to avoid. Although you may be able to eliminate it from your home, you may still encounter it in your workplace or other public spaces.
Immunotherapy is highly effective against dust mites, pollen, and other environmental triggers. If you find it difficult to control your exposure to ubiquitous triggers, you can get relief with immunotherapy, which has been shown to lessen the severity of disease by 50%.
When you have AD, your immune system is overactive. It’s spending energy combatting benign substances rather than pathogens. And, of course, the symptoms this overreactivity creates makes your life uncomfortable and distressing.
Immunotherapy trains your body to tolerate allergens so it doesn’t expend energy trying to fight them. By being exposed to minute but gradually increasing doses of your triggers, your immune system begins to ignore them, leaving you with reduced or no symptoms.