Atopic dermatitis (AD), the most common form of eczema, affects almost 28 million individuals in the United States. Atopic dermatitis, commonly referred to as eczema, is a chronic inflammatory skin disease that results in dry, red, and itchy patches of skin characterized by scales and/or a crust-like appearance. Worldwide, atopic dermatitis affects approximately 20% of children and 3% of adults; while deemed incurable, there are many ways to prevent atopic dermatitis flares, as well as many options for proper treatment ranging from moisturizers to topical steroids to light therapy.
While genetics, such as if mom and/or dad had atopic dermatitis, play a larger role in the prediction of atopic dermatitis in offspring, there are many prenatal and postnatal factors like exposure, parental habits, and even occupation that largely affect the risk of developing childhood atopic dermatitis.
1. Tobacco Smoke
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A study conducted with children ages 5 to 6 years old showed evidence that children of mothers who smoked during pregnancy were almost twice as likely to develop atopic dermatitis than those born from mothers who did not. Tobacco products often contain a multitude of harmful ingredients like arsenic, lead, nicotine, and tar that can be extremely harmful to both the mother and child. It has been hypothesized that prenatal smoking alters the offspring’s immune system, there increasing the risk of developing atopic dermatitis.
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Similarly to tobacco smoke, there is also evidence that maternal consumption of alcohol during pregnancy can lead to the alteration of offsprings immune systems, increasing their risk of developing atopic dermatitis. Alcohol is a known carcinogen and source of numerous serious health conditions. So despite many sources saying a drink or two during pregnancy is harmless, it is important to err on the side of caution avoid all alcohol consumption during pregnancy.
3. Stress in Pregnancy
Many mothers choose to work well into their pregnancy. However, a large-scale survey study found that mothers who worked outside of the house had a greater risk of atopic dermatitis development in their offspring than mothers who did not work. This could be due to the physical and psychological stresses resulting from work that cause an overall negative effect on health and wellbeing. Specifically, there was a higher risk in mothers who worked “shift work” types of jobs, especially those with night shifts and long hours.
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Breastfeeding can be both beneficial and harmful to babies, depending on the mother’s diet while breastfeeding. The nutrients and constituents within human breast milk make it an important source of not only nutrients for the baby to grow, but also support the development of the baby’s immune system. For example, studies have shown that vegetable-rich diets were associated with lower risks of eczema in infants. On the other hand, diets including foods like eggs and milk expose the infant to potentially harmful antigens, but there is insufficient evidence proving that removing foods like these would be best for the mother and child. Some studies have shown that exclusive breastfeeding leads to a decreased atopic dermatitis risk in children as opposed to non-exclusive breastfeeding (breast milk, cow’s milk, and formula feeding) during the early months of life when cows milk and formula are used as well; however, due to the contrasting studies that found no positive association between exclusive breastfeeding and a decrease in AD, further research must be done.
5. Diet and Supplements
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Vitamins and supplements have become an essential part of every woman’s pregnancy. A nutritious diet is important in maintaining the health of both the mother and the child. Probiotics, in particular, play an influential role in preventing atopic dermatitis. When taken during pregnancy, studies have shown a significant reduction in AD development in children. Researchers have found that a “prevention regimen,” created with specialized prenatal probiotics for pregnant mothers is a safe and effective way of decreasing atopic dermatitis risk in infants, especially those with allergic mothers. Probiotic supplements help to prevent immune dysfunction and reduce inflammation, deeming it an effective way to prevent and treat eczema.
Vitamins also play a large role in skin function and health; studies have shown that when taken during pregnancy, vitamin E supplements lowers risk for eczema in children, while vitamin C can actually increase the risk of eczema development. Other vitamins like Vitamin D and E, in addition to zinc, are essential for other health functions but had no effect on atopic dermatitis risk.
While there are many factors contributing to the health of both mothers and their children, there are also many preventative measures to reduce the risk of atopic dermatitis and Eczema development in young infants. However, atopic dermatitis and eczema are common skin conditions with many treatments available.
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