Skin and Asthma Connections
Last updated: May 2023
Asthma is often an invisible illness, it presents primarily experiential and sometimes an auditory group of symptoms. However, asthma can be linked to visible conditions as well. This is an article about what skin conditions can be linked to asthma, where to go if you’re experiencing them, and what it’s like to experience an asthma skin symptom.
The atopic march
There is one skin symptom linked to asthma that is most common and that’s eczema. Over half of patients with moderate to severe eczema also have or will develop asthma. The development of asthma from eczema, or vice versa, is known as 'atopic march’; a link that has been identified but not well understood.1
There has been significant research into what the connection might be, however, the latest break through in understanding the atopic march was over a decade ago. A group of researchers noticed that eczema produced a compound called TSLP (thymic stromal lymphopoietin), a substance that can produce a powerful immune response and was observed to affect asthma, in mice. The researchers suggested that early treatment of eczema in children can help to mitigate the chances of developing asthma.2
Caring for eczema
Eczema is believed to be cause by a dryness of the skin, which prevents the skin from protecting against environmental irritants and allergens.3 The Mayo Clinic has suggestions for how to prevent and treat eczema:3
- Keeping skin moisturized
- Identify and avoid triggers
- Take shorter showers and baths
- Use gentle soaps
- Dry your skin carefully and gently
- Take a bleach bath (1/2 cup of bleach: 40 gallons of water)
- Not a recommended treatment if a patient has asthma and is triggered by chemicals
- Medicated creams
- Oral medications
- (Newer medication) Injectable medication
- Wet dressings
- Light therapy
- Behavior modification or biofeedback treatments (to stop scratching)
My experience with skin conditions and asthma
When I was a newborn, I had eczema. Following the trend of atopic march, I developed severe asthma. I cannot remember how my eczema was treated, however, by the time I was around 10 years old I was free of eczema. While I was glad to be rid of eczema, I definitely still had asthma.
When I was in my early teens, I developed another, much more rare skin condition: Pityriasis lichenoides et varioliformis acuta or 'PLEVA'. As it would turn out, it is so rare that I was sent to half a dozen dermatologists (doctors that specialize in the skin). Ironically, most of them had never heard of it or had only seen it in a textbook. So, I became a test subject for them as they passed me around to try and find a solution.
After a skin biopsy to confirm that I did have PLEVA, they began testing different treatments. I was given most of the treatments used to treat eczema. Unfortunately, none of it worked at all and I was going on a year of having this skin condition. It wasn't until I visited a dermatologist at the UCLA Department of Dermatology that I was given an unlikely prognosis. The doctor noticed that the PLEVA was only under my clothing, and hypothesized that sunlight was a possible treatment. My mother let them know that we were planning a trip to the desert soon, a place where there would be plenty of sun.
The dermatologist was reluctant to recommend that I get a serious sunburn, on as much of my body as possible. So, that's exactly what I did. After my painfully red skin peeled away, clear skin was the result and the condition never returned. Upon doing research for this article, I read that a treatment for PLEVA is phototherapy, under UV lamps or sunlight.4 I'd like to believe that I helped reach that conclusion.
Linking skin symptoms to asthma
Most of the dermatologists that I visited expressed that there is a probable link between my history of asthma, allergies, and eczema, and the development of PLEVA. Unfortunately, they had little way of confirming this suspicion. Their reasoning, however, was that all of these conditions share a common theme of being autoimmune, inflammatory responses. I hope future research will provide more clarity.
It's not common that asthma is a visible disease, unless you witness a person using their medication. At certain times, there might be expressions of inflammation that show on the skin. These skin conditions aren't necessarily symptoms of asthma, but they are often correlated or connected to asthma. If you are experiencing skin inflammation, the best doctor to see is a dermatologist. Depending on the condition, you might need to see more than one.
For more information on eczema, check out our sister site AtopicDermatitis.net
Do you have asthma and eczema?
Has laughter ever triggered your asthma?