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Eczema is an extremely common skin issue that causes an itchy, irritated rash to form. The root cause of eczema is a mystery, but several treatments target lowering your immune response. This is the same treatment type you see used to help with other autoimmune diseases, including psoriasis or lupus. 

There are close links between autoimmune disorders and eczema, but we still don’t fully understand the relationship. Even though eczema displays some features that mimic autoimmune conditions, there are striking differences. 

Defining Eczema

Eczema is a chronic rash that has a lot of inflammation when it appears. Anyone can develop it, but it’s more common in children. It can start out mild and get severe, and the symptoms can get so intense that they negatively impact your quality of life. While medical professionals don’t know the root cause of eczema, it likely has several contributing causes, including those from your environment and genetic factors.

Related: Atopic Dermatitis Comorbidities and Disease Burden

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Genetic and Environmental Factors That Can Contribute to Eczema

As we touched on, scientists believe that genetic and environmental factors contribute to developing eczema and its severity. They include but are not limited to the following: 

Genetics

One potential genetic cause for this skin issue is when your filaggrin, or part of your skin, doesn’t work as it should. Filaggrin helps your skin defend against unwelcome intruders, and you find it at the skin barrier at your skin’s surface. Think of it as the glue that helps lock moisture in and foreign things out. When it doesn’t work as it should, your skin barrier starts to crumple, and this can lead to:  

  • Easy entry point for allergens, irritants, and bacteria 
  • Unable to keep your skin moist
  • Very dry skin
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This can cause chronic problems with your eczema and skin inflammation. Genetics may also dictate who develops childhood eczema. 

Environmental Factors

If the leading cause of your eczema has to do with your environment, it’s common for you to develop it when you’re an adult or notice it is getting markedly worse. The environmental factors thought to trigger eczema include: 

  • Allergens like dust or pet dander
  • Overwashing
  • Skin irritants like heavy fragrances or detergents
  • Stress 
  • Very dry air

Additionally, many people with this condition also have asthma, and they may have allergies to grasses and dust.  

Do you have a stressful job? Having constant high-stress situations or emotions can contribute to your eczema’s severity, and MD Newsline can outline how it affects you so you can make adjustments to help treat it. 

Defining an Autoimmune Disease

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If you develop an autoimmune disorder, it means that your immune system becomes hyperactive and erroneously targets a part or function of your body. This can affect organs or even the skin. 

Usually, your immune system is really good at determining what should be inside your body and what shouldn’t. For instance, when you fall ill, your immune system identifies the harmful germs responsible and eliminates them. Additionally, your immune system possesses an ability to remember past invaders, enabling it to respond quickly if you reencounter the same germs.

Sometimes, your immune system doesn’t function properly. For example, when identifying substances like germs, it mistakenly identifies a part of your own body as foreign and launches an attack against it. Type 1 diabetes is an excellent example of this phenomenon. In this condition, the immune system begins to target and destroy the insulin-producing cells in your pancreas. Consequently, your pancreas becomes unable to produce insulin, necessitating reliance on replacement insulin.  

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Related: Recognizing the Impact of Atopic Dermatitis

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Does Eczema Fit the Criteria to Be an Autoimmune Disease?

Technically speaking, eczema doesn’t fit the criteria to be an autoimmune disease, but it does have close links. When you develop eczema, your immune system isn’t attacking a specific target in your body or skin. This is the defining factor for autoimmune disease classification. 

However, there are components of your immune system that might become more active during eczema, known as your body’s inflammatory factors. This is why you may take certain medications to help reduce the activity of your immune system and improve the symptoms of eczema. However, it’s vital to remember that the immune system doesn’t solely influence eczema. Environmental factors and genetics also play a role, which helps differentiate eczema from a disease.

Research shows that individuals with existing autoimmune disorders are at a greater likelihood of experiencing eczema at some point in their lives. The risk gets further amplified if the autoimmune condition affects either the gastrointestinal or the skin. Moreover, having multiple autoimmune diseases raises the probability of developing eczema. If you happen to have any of the following conditions, your chances of developing eczema increase significantly:

  • Alopecia areata
  • Celiac disease
  • Inflammatory bowel disease 
  • Vitiligo

This is a two-way street. People who have eczema are at a much higher risk of developing specific autoimmune diseases, including: 

  • Hypothyroidism
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Pernicious anemia
  • Psoriatic arthritis
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Sjögren syndrome
  • Vitiligo

Did you know that your diet and overall nutrition can impact your eczema and its severity? You can read more about nutrition and how it helps manage your eczema on MD Newsline. 

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Uncovering the Links between Eczema and Autoimmune Diseases

Eczema is a chronic, inflammatory skin condition that results in an itchy rash, and the immune system might contribute to the occurrence of eczema flare-ups. It’s important to note that eczema is not an autoimmune disease or condition. This is because both environmental and genetic factors are involved in the development of eczema.

There is a connection between eczema and autoimmune diseases. Having eczema increases your chances of developing it. If you’re worried about this, it’s advisable to consult with your healthcare provider.

Related: A Potential New Way to Treat Atopic Dermatitis