Atopic Dermatitis and Children’s Mental Health

atopic dermatitis autism in childrenAtopic dermatitis is increasingly associated with mental health issues and research published just this month (Yaghmaie, et al, 2013) found that children with atopic dermatitis had almost twice the incidence of ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder). Looking at the health records of over 90,000 children under the age of seventeen in the US, the researchers found a relative risk ratio of 1.85 for ADHD in children with atopic dermatitis compared to those without the skin issue.

Depression, Autism and Atopic Dermatitis

Children with atopic dermatitis were also more likely to suffer from clinically diagnosed depression (RR 1.81), anxiety (RR 1.77), and conduct disorder (RR 1.87). Children with atopic dermatitis were more than three times more likely to also be diagnosed with autism (RR 3.04).

Treating Dermatitis to Reduce Autism Risk

The severity of the skin disease was also associated with the prevalence of mental health issues, meaning that those children with severe atopic dermatitis were even more likely to have been diagnosed with some kind of psychological disorder. The authors of this study suggest that earlier intervention and treatment of this skin disease could improve mental health outcomes for these children although far more research needs carrying out before such a conclusion can be considered sound.

Research Limitations

The researchers did not differentiate between children diagnosed first with the skin condition and then with the mental health issue or vice versa, nor did they account for the idea that a child already embroiled in the healthcare system for one disorder may be more likely to be diagnosed than a child who rarely sees medical professionals for any reason. Still, the results are striking.

What Links Mental Health and Skin Disease?

Why is it then that psychological problems and skin health are so intertwined? We’ve talked about the gut-brain-skin axis and the psychosocial aspects of skin disease but are there ways in which mental health disorders actively trigger or exacerbate skin conditions? Do our emotions affect skin health?

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