Eczema found to be connected to greater occurrence of physical injury

Alice Yin, Assistant Campus Editor

A recent Northwestern study found a direct link between eczema and a greater risk of accidental injuries.

Adult eczema, a skin condition that causes severe itching and dry skin, comes with increased instances of bone fractures and other injuries, according to a Northwestern Medicine study published Oct. 29 in the journal JAMA Dermatology. It is the first study to find such a connection.

These conditions could be a side effect of steroids and sedatives prescribed to treat the disorder, or the under-treatment of more severe cases.

Dr. Jonathan Silverberg, a professor at the Feinberg School of Medicine and employee at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, was the senior author of the study.

“Many eczema patients who are prescribed medication for itch are often given sedating antihistamines or steroids, but those medications may come at a price,” Silverberg said in a news release. “Sedatives cause fatigue, and steroids can lead to bone density problems and osteoporosis.”

The study used a sample of more than 27,000 adults from around the nation. Participants with recent cases of eczema reported a 44 percent higher chance of injuries. In those older than 50, the odds more than doubled.

In addition to the chronic itching, participants reported symptoms of fatigue and insomnia — a possible liability for greater clumsiness and injury. The sleeplessness is attributed to under-treatment of the condition, which hinders patients from falling asleep.

“It makes it almost impossible to function normally at work and to take care of the activities of daily living,” Silverberg said in a news release. “The itch is waking patients up from their sleep at night, much in the way that chronic pain patients have difficulties sleeping.”

Eczema afflicts more than 10 percent of the adult population, and one-third of those with the disease suffer from a moderate to severe form.

Silverberg said he sees evidence of the study’s results regularly at the Northwestern Multidisciplinary Center for Eczema.

“Last month three of my patients with eczema cancelled at the last minute because of injuries,” Silverberg said in a news release. “One fell and almost got hit by a bus, another was hit by a car and then another missed her appointment because she was in a car accident. You can’t make this stuff up.”

Although the findings needs to be confirmed with additional studies, Silverberg said the study’s results mean doctors need to be more cautious.

“Until better options are developed to manage eczema and itch, doctors should remind patients of the side effects of their medication and encourage them to use caution when out and about and avoid situations like driving while using sedating antihistamines,” he said.

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