A scary itch: How is eczema and depression related?

The correlation between eczema and depression is deep and dangerous. Don’t ignore it.

Published: 15th November 2020 05:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 14th November 2020 02:01 PM   |  A+A-

itch, scratch

For representational purposes

You’re living in a fool’s paradise if you think eczema is simply a skin itch. At worst, it can lead to depression, according to a recent study. That’s reason enough to get it checked if you’ve been putting it off.

“It has been observed that patients suffering from atopic eczema (skin inflammation that leads to itchiness, redness and fluid-filled blisters), tends to produce a large group of proteins that are secreted by cells of the immune system called cytokines like TNF and IL-6. These disturb the production of serotonin or the happy hormone in the body, which is particularly important for regulating anxiety and stress,” says Dr Sunil Kumar Prabhu, Senior Consultant, Dermatology and Aesthetic Physician, Aster RV Hospital, Bengaluru.

A recent cohort study published in The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology bought this startling finding to the surface. As many as 5,26,808 adults suffering from atopic eczema were identified and the outcome was matched to the 25,69,030 people with no signs of it.

The findings left nothing to the imagination. It revealed that adults with atopic eczema were prone to developing depression and anxiety. No age group is immune.  It can happen to anybody, anytime. Yet, the correlation between skin and mental health is rarely spoken about. The thing to note, however, is that preventive action can be taken. The simplest way is by avoiding triggers. For that, you need to first identify them. Eczema can be stimulated in cold or dry climate, as well as by sweating, exposure to pet dander, pollen fabrics, certain soaps, among other things.

Food can also trigger it. Pregnancy can be another time for it to fire off due to the many hormonal changes taking place in a women’s body. “But stress is considered the biggest transgressor of recent times. It can set off atopic eczema like nothing else,” says Dr Deepa Krishnamurthy, Consultant, Dermatologist, Columbia Asia Hospital Sarjapur Road, Bengaluru. When stress goes unmanaged, the production of mast cells increases in the body. These cells release a compound called histamine, which causes itching.

“Also, when you’re experiencing stress, the body releases a hormone called cortisol, which creates inflammation and flares up to an eczema-like condition,” says Krishnamurthy. Experts suggest that prolonged hours in the gym can be harmful too. It leads to a higher chance of developing eczema as vigorous exercises dries out the skin causing incessant scratching.

To keep this condition at bay, good sleep can be powerful medicine. Give your skin adequate and timely nourishment, both in terms of a good diet and hydration. Take an allergy test. Use mild soaps and shampoos. Avoid those with perfumes. In case you still get a bout of it, get medical attention immediately so the issue can be arrested sooner rather than later. The mistake most people make is that they wait for it to get worse and then see a doctor. And with that, you have it all covered. 

Biggest triggers of atopic eczema

Deficiency of zinc, vitamin B3 and protein

Keep in mind

Atopic eczema is not contagious but it runs in the family

It affects sleep so it’s advisable to take a bath before sleeping and moisturising the skin. Avoid using 
electronics two hours before bedtime.

Avoid hot or cold showers for long as both dry out the skin

Stress, sweat, certain soaps, detergents, dust and pollen worsens this condition  

“Stress is considered the biggest transgressor of recent times. It can set off atopic eczema like nothing else.” 

Dr Deepa Krishnamurthy, Consultant, Dermatologist, Columbia Asia Hospital Bengaluru


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