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Eczema could be linked to poorly regulated sex hormones. Itching to know more?

Published on:22 September 2021, 15:16pm IST
For the longest time, there was hardly any treatment for eczema. But a new study shows that the link between sex hormones and this skin condition could offer a viable treatment.
Geetika Sachdev
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Yami Gautam
Eczema or atopic dermatitis could have a new treatment option. Image courtesy: Shutterstock
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Suffering from any skin disorder is much harder than you may think, and the challenges increase manifold when it’s something like eczema. Also known as atopic dermatitis, this condition affects 13% of children and 10% of adults, and is characterised by super sensitive skin. Yes, you heard it right — it makes your skin red and itchy, and your skin tends to flare up periodically. Sometimes, it is also accompanied by asthma (especially in the case of children). 

Most medical experts say that eczema is linked to a gene variation, which impacts the ability of the skin to provide protection from bacteria, irritants, and allergens. This means your skin is exposed to them, and that’s how problems arise. 

Here are some common signs and symptoms of eczema:
  • Dry skin
  • Severe itching, especially at night
  • Red to brownish-gray patches visible on the hands, feet, ankles, wrists, neck, upper chest, eyelids, inside the bend of the elbows and knees, and in infants, the face and scalp
  • Small, raised bumps that are filled with fluid, and crust over when scratched
  • Thick and scaly skin
  • Sensitive and swollen skin from scratching
What are the causes of eczema?

Eczema is associated with an increase in the levels of immune cytokines IL-4 and IL-13, which disrupt the skin barrier and cause lipid abnormalities. A new study, spearheaded by UT Southwestern dermatologists, has revealed that atopic dermatitis or eczema could be a consequence of poorly regulated sex hormones. The findings show that the gene that is critical to make sex hormones is also linked to the skin’s ability to make its moisturisers. If this gene’s activity is altered, we could find a treatment to tackle this condition.

Author Tamia Harris-Tryon, MD., PhD, Assistant Professor of Dermatology and Immunology at UTSW, said, “The finding was a surprise because this enzyme is well known for playing a key role in the production of sex hormones such as testosterone and progesterone, but it had never been linked to atopic dermatitis and skin lipid production.”

In another old study, scientists revealed that atopic dermatitis is linked with overactivity in genes, which are responsible for producing two inflammatory immune molecules, interleukins 4 and 13 (IL-4 and IL-13).

eczema causes
Dull and dry skin troubling you? Eczema can be the cause behind it. Image courtesy: Shutterstock
Is there any treatment to tackle this condition?

As of now, there are hardly any treatments available to contain this condition. But a study published in the journal Trials has revealed something we didn’t know. Here’s what it says, ‘The foundation of all treatment is the regular use of leave-on emollients to preserve and restore moisture to the skin.’

Another drug called dupilumab, a monoclonal antibody is said to help reduce the inflammatory molecules and works for those who have moderate to severe eczema.

The findings also revealed that a gene called HSD3B1, which is said to make an enzyme called 3b-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase 1, became up to 60 times more active when it came in contact with the two interleukins. 

When this gene was made less active, sex hormones decreased, and the production of sebum increased. The reverse was also observed. Here’s what the study said, “These findings suggest that HSD3B1 could be a new target for fighting AD and potentially other forms of eczema. Changing the output of this gene could eventually offer a way to treat AD that’s completely different from any treatment that currently exists.”

Some tips to keep in mind, when dealing with eczema:

1. Moisturise your skin twice a day: Make sure you use creams and ointments to moisturise your skin. The ones that contain petroleum jelly are particularly helpful.

eczema causes
You cannot afford to skip moisturization. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

2. Identify the triggers that flare up your skin: There could be several triggers that could make your situation worse. This could be anything from sweat, soaps, dust and pollen, detergents, and more. In the case of children, certain foods could also aggravate the situation. 

3. Do not take long baths: As tempting as it may be, try and limit your baths to 10 to 15 minutes. Do not use boiling hot water. Make sure to only use gentle soaps.

4. Dry yourself well: Pat dry your skin with a soft towel, and apply a moisturiser, when your skin is a little damp. 

Geetika Sachdev Geetika Sachdev

An independent writer and journalist, Geetika loves sharp and fresh humour, just like her coffee! If not writing, you'll find her cafe-hopping and raiding the best book stores in town.