In addition to a skin rash, many eczema sufferers also experience chronic itching, but sometimes that itching can become torturous. Worse, antihistamines — the standard treatment for itching and allergy — often don’t help.
New research from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis indicates that allergens in the environment often are to blame for episodes of acute itch in eczema patients, and that the itching often doesn’t respond to antihistamines because the itch signals are being carried to the brain along a previously unrecognized pathway that current drugs don’t target.
The new findings, published Jan. 14 in the journal Cell, point to a possible new target and strategy to help eczema patients cope with those episodes of acute, severe itch.
“Years ago, we used to think that itch and pain were carried along the same subway lines in the nerves to the brain, but it turned out they weren’t, and these new findings show there’s another pathway entirely that’s causing these episodes of acute itching in eczema patients,” said principal investigator Brian S. Kim, MD, a dermatologist and an associate professor of medicine. “The itch can be maddening. Patients may rate their chronic itch at around a 5 on a scale of 10, but that goes up to 10 during acute itch flares. Now that we know those acute flares are being transmitted in an entirely different way, we can target that pathway, and maybe we can help those patients.”