Could there be a connection between eczema and ADHD in children? It seems strange that eczema, a skin condition, would be associated with ADHD, a neurobiological condition. A number of studies, however, have found that children who are diagnosed with eczema, especially within the first two years of life, have a higher risk of developing ADHD.
Atopic dermatitis, also known as eczema, is a chronic skin condition which affects over 30 million people in the United States. The main symptom of eczema is a red, itchy rash. The itch associated with eczema can be intense, so much so that you scratch until the skin bleeds, causing further inflammation and itching. When babies develop eczema, the rash most often shows up on their face, especially the cheeks and chin. The rash can, however, show up anywhere. In later years, the rash often shows up on elbows, behind the knees, the neck, wrists and ankles. Most people are diagnosed with eczema as babies on in early childhood. Symptoms tend to lessen as a child matures. Along with rashes, people with eczema often have dry, sensitive skin.
A study completed in Germany and published in 2009, stated, “studies conducted consistently indicate an association between atopic dermatitis and ADHD…” The researchers hypothesized that sleep problems from eczema symptoms might cause ADHD-like symptoms although this didn’t necessarily account for the entire 43 percent increase in risk of developing ADHD in those with eczema. The scientists called for further studies to develop earlier treatment and prevention of eczema to see if this would lower the risk of developing ADHD.
Dr. Eric L. Simpson, an associate professor at the Oregon Health and Science University, analyzed information from the 2007 National Survey of Children’s Health and found that “the odds of having ADHD was significantly increased in children with atopic dermatitis.” Simpson found that the more severe the eczema symptoms, the higher the risk of being diagnosed with ADHD. One of the questions raised during this study is whether one condition causes the other - does eczema lead to ADHD or could it be the other way - maybe ADHD increases the chance of developing eczema. The other question Simpson raised concerned the possibility of a similar underlying cause of both conditions - is ADHD the cause or result of an immune response which can lead to both conditions?
Another question Simpson raised was the viability of the ADHD diagnosis in children with eczema. While he isn’t suggesting that these children do not exhibit symptoms, he suggests that more research is needed to determine if the sleep connection raised in the previous study plays a role in creating ADHD-like symptoms, for example, when children have sleep deficits they can have trouble concentrating and be hyperactive.
Despite the differences in the results of the study, both researchers believe that there needs to be more research on this topic and both emphasize the importance of treating eczema early and effectively. If you believe your baby or young child has eczema, you should contact your pediatrician and, if necessary, make an appointment with a dermatologist.
For more information on eczema:
The Link Between Eczema and Asthma
Is it Eczema or Psoriasis? A Dermatologist Explains the Similarities and Differences
Eczema & Children: What Parents Can Do
The Link Between Eczema and Food Allergies