Figure scratching a spot on their arm that matches the texture of their lungs.

Links Between Asthma And Eczema

Years ago I had a good friend with both severe asthma and eczema. I saw first hand how he and his doctors attempted to manage both conditions. I have also experienced both conditions in my past, and so has my son. So, I have often wondered if there are links between these two conditions.

Asthma and eczema statistics

My curiosity was peaked when I saw the results of our latest Asthma in America survey. Of those who completed it, 15% said that they also have eczema. This statistic matches the results of other similar surveys. In fact, there are actually confirmed links between eczema, asthma, and allergies.

For instance, researchers have discovered that:1

  • 35% of adults with asthma or allergic rhinitis (nasal allergies) had eczema as kids
  • Similarily, up to 80% of children with eczema grow up to develop asthma or allergic rhinitis
  • 1 in 3 infants born to moms with asthma will develop eczema.
  • 15-20% of children have a diagnosis of eczema.
  • 1-2% of adults have a diagnosis of eczema.
  • 60% of eczema patients are diagnosed in the first year of life.
  • 90% of eczema patients are diagnosed by the time they are five-years-old.
  • Eczema usually resolves by adulthood. But 10-30% continue to have symptoms.
  • For people living with eczema, 91% experience itching as the most common symptom.
  • Children with eczema and allergies in infancy were seven times more likely to develop asthma by the age of three. They were 12 times more likely to develop allergic rhinitis rhinitis (nasal allergies). They also have an elevated risk for developing food allergies. This is compared to those without eczema and allergies.
  • When both parents have eczema, their children have a 70% chance of developing it.

What is eczema?

It is the name of a skin condition that causes dry and itchy skin rashes. It feels itchy, although scratching it can make it worse. Scratching can cause clear fluid to seep from the rashes, and this may cause infections.2,3,6

Modern terms for eczema are atopic eczema or atopic dermatitis. "Atopic" means that it’s an allergic condition that tends to be genetic. Genetic means that it is caused by certain genes that are passed on from parent to child. Dermatitis simply means inflammation of the skin. So, atopic dermatitis (eczema) is generally considered inflammation of the skin caused by allergies.2,3,6

The condition is usually first diagnosed in infancy. My son was diagnosed after he developed rashes on his face and neck. When I was a kid I would develop rashes on the backsides of my knees or elbows. My childhood friend had rashes all over his hands, arms, legs, and face. These are all common places for eczema to be observed.6

How is eczema triggered?

Like asthma, eczema is often triggered by exposure to certain environmental triggers. These may include, but are not limited to:5,6

What is the atopic triad?

Many infants diagnosed with eczema outgrow it by the time they are five. However, many others may have recurring episodes (flare-ups) of eczema into childhood. Others will continue to have flare-ups into adulthood.5,6

Many of these infants may eventually be diagnosed with allergies. This may be in the form of food allergies, allergic rhinitis (nasal allergies), or other types of allergies. Others may also develop asthma over time. The progression of these three conditions is often referred to as the atopic march. Likewise, people who are diagnosed with eczema, allergies, and asthma are said to have the “Atopic Triad.”5,6

Recent studies may have found a genetic link explaining this. They have identified 18 genes that may increase the risk for developing these three conditions. Exposure to certain environmental triggers may be what activates these genes. For instance, exposure to any of the above triggers early in life may be responsible for causing eczema, and ultimately allergies and asthma.7

The discovery of these genes may also explain the genetic link. This is because genes are handed down from parent to child.

What to make of this?

The statistics above clearly spotlight links between eczema and asthma. The identification of those 18 genes may help explain the link. Further research in this area may lead to better strategies for helping all the people affected by both asthma and eczema.

For more information about eczema (diagnosis, treatment, etc.), please check out our sister site AtopicDermatitis.net.

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The Asthma.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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