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Atopic dermatitis: Understanding what makes people ‘itch’

(BPT) – The skin is the body’s largest organ, but we seldom think about what lies beneath what’s visible to the eye. In today’s society, it’s critical to think about how the physical manifestation of symptoms on the skin can not only affect your health, but also impact emotional well-being and lifestyle, such as through sleep disturbances.

Atopic dermatitis, though perceived by many as a minor condition with only occasional symptoms, is one of the most common and burdensome skin diseases, affecting up to one out of four children and approximately 5-7 million adults in the U.S. Considered a serious form of the more commonly known condition eczema, atopic dermatitis is a chronic, inflammatory disorder characterized by itchy, inflamed skin that can be present on any part of a person’s body. According to research, many patients with moderate-to-severe atopic dermatitis report feeling self-conscious about their appearance, which can result in social avoidance, reduced productivity, and relationship difficulties.

Even though the physical signs and symptoms of the condition are what cause many sufferers grief, atopic dermatitis outbreaks are believed to be fueled by a breakdown in proper regulation of the immune system — so the condition starts from within the body and the underlying inflammation is present even in non-lesional skin. Dr. Emma Guttman-Yassky, associate professor of Dermatology & Immunology and director of the Center for Excellence in Eczema and the Occupational/Contact Dermatitis Clinic at the Mount Sinai Hospital, explains the science beneath the skin:

“When you see someone with what’s essentially a really bad rash, it’s hard to imagine that the intense itching that leads them to scratch — sometimes until their skin bleeds — is actually prompted by something that happens within a person’s body. People living with atopic dermatitis often experience a vicious cycle: their immune system doesn’t function properly, so the skin barrier is weakened and becomes more susceptible to environmental triggers, or antigens. When antigens enter a person’s body, they trigger an immune response that leads to further inflammation and, in turn, intense itching and scratching, which further disrupts the skin barrier.”

This vicious cycle, often referred to as the itch-scratch-cycle of atopic dermatitis, is not only painful for patients, but can also lead to additional inflammation and secondary infections, caused by bacteria such as Staphylococcus aureus.

The National Eczema Association (NEA) is dedicated to improving the health and quality of life for individuals with eczema through research, support and education. Julie Block, president and CEO of NEA, is excited about what the future holds for atopic dermatitis patients. “I think the mere fact that there are investigational therapies in development for atopic dermatitis is reason enough for patients to have hope.”

Working in close collaboration, Regeneron and Sanofi are committed to investigating new approaches to unmet medical needs in atopic dermatitis.

For more information on atopic dermatitis — what it is, how it may impact those who have it, and how innovators and researchers are working together for those living with the condition — visit the NEA at www.nationaleczema.com.

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