Atopic dermatitis (AD) is not just skin deep. In a survey conducted among those with moderate to severe forms of this chronic disease by the Eczema Society of Canada, 87% of respondents said it negatively impacted their daily lives. 80% reported compromised sleep quality and about one-third missed work and important life events.
It’s estimated that up to 17% of Canadians have AD — the most common form of eczema, marked by red, itchy, dry skin. Despite its prevalence across the country, it is not well understood and many patients struggle to find effective treatments. Fortunately, new therapies are now available.
To learn more about moderate to severe AD and how it affects the lives of young and old patients alike, Mediaplanet spoke to Dr. Vipul Jain, an immunologist and allergist with practices across Ontario and Melani-Ivy Samson, a 27-year-old Waterloo, ON student who has been living with eczema since she was three-months-old.
What are some common misconceptions associated with atopic dermatitis?
Dr. Vipul Jain (VJ): There’s still a belief that it’s contagious, but it’s not something you can catch. It’s caused by an interaction of many internal and external factors, like compromised skin function, genetics, and the environment. Some think food allergies are responsible, but a causal relationship has not been established. Tihis is a complex topic which is still highly debated and more research is needed in this area.
Melani-Ivy Samson (MS): Some people think it’s just dry skin and suggest moisturizers. They offer advice without knowing the facts, which is frustrating.
How does it impact patients?
VJ: They often suffer work disturbances and a rise in depression. As well, 60% experience decreased sexual desire.
MS: During flare-ups, I was in pain that was often excruciating — even applying ice packs to my eyes would not alleviate it. I had to bandage my hands and couldn’t go to school. People sometimes stare and it makes me feel self-conscious.
What’s new in terms of available treatment options?
VJ: For resistant eczema or moderate to severe presentation, we aren’t just treating eczema from the top down anymore. The most exciting therapies are working from the inside out, utilizing the immune system to heal the skin. For instance, a new monoclonal antibody, administered through a subcutaneous injection every two weeks, has been approved for moderate to severe eczema. It’s still very important, however, to continue moisturizing and taking care of the skin.
How is this new approach changing lives?
VJ: I had a patient who felt hopeless about her appearance. I put her on a newer biologic therapy. While in treatment, her husband touched her arm and she said she experienced what a normal touch felt like for the first time in her life.
MS: I tried everything from UV phototherapy to increasingly strong steroid creams, but my condition worsened. Last September, I started getting the new injectable. It has been a complete game-changer for me. Within just two weeks, I stopped itching and my skin was healing. When my mom saw me for the first time four months after I began treatment, she burst into tears. She was amazed.
This article was made possible with support from a Canadian pharmaceutical research company.