Eczema and Mental Health: What’s the Link

Bozz District

Atopic dermatitis (eczema), an inflammatory skin condition, may be linked to other forms of inflammation in the body that can affect your mental health. While eczema can sometimes trigger mental health symptoms, stress and anxiety may trigger your eczema rashes, too. Treatment options are available to help both atopic dermatitis […]

  • Atopic dermatitis (eczema), an inflammatory skin condition, may be linked to other forms of inflammation in the body that can affect your mental health.
  • While eczema can sometimes trigger mental health symptoms, stress and anxiety may trigger your eczema rashes, too.
  • Treatment options are available to help both atopic dermatitis and mental health conditions.
  • Therapy and a healthy lifestyle may help support treatment for both conditions.

Atopic dermatitis (AD) is a chronic inflammatory skin condition caused by overactivity in the immune system. It’s also known as atopic eczema, or eczema for short.

AD may be linked to other inflammatory symptoms in your body. These symptoms may lead to mental health conditions, such as depression and anxiety. The good news is, both conditions can be managed with a combination of treatments and lifestyle changes.

Read on to learn more about the connection between eczema and your mental health, as well as what you can do to help treat each of them.

Research currently shows a strong link between AD and mental health conditions. This may have several potential causes.

First, the same inflammation causing AD may also potentially cause other inflammation in the body. Inflammation may impact your brain, according to 2019 research — and this may potentially lead to changes that result in depression and anxiety.

What’s more, stress and anxiety are two common eczema triggers, according to the National Eczema Association (NEA).

Stress increases production of the hormone cortisol, which can increase inflammation in your skin. Then, if you have a severe flare-up, you may feel more stressed and anxious. These feelings may affect your mental health.

Severe eczema may also cause you to feel embarrassed, and it’s not uncommon to want to withdraw socially as a result. This can be difficult on your overall mental well-being.

The itch and overall discomfort of an AD flare-up may also make it hard to sleep at night. Long-term sleep deprivation may increase your risk for mood disorders, such as depression and anxiety, according to 2018 research.

Depression and anxiety are the most common mental health conditions in people with eczema.

A 2017 survey by the NEA estimated that 30 percent of people are affected. In addition, people with eczema were also found to experience depression at four times the rate of the general population.

A study published in 2020 confirmed an increased risk for depression and anxiety in adults with AD, at rates of 14 percent and 17 percent, respectively.

A 2018 analysis also found a significantly increased risk of suicidal thoughts and actions in people with AD than in the general population.

This analysis included 15 studies of 310,681 people with atopic dermatitis and found that 44 percent of people with the condition had increased odds of suicidal ideation, and 36 percent had an increased likelihood of suicide attempts than people without AD.

Contact a healthcare professional right away if you have any thoughts of self-harm or suicide.

If you or a loved one is experiencing a mental health crisis, call 800-273-8255, or dial 911.

Managing your eczema may help reduce your risk for developing mental health complications. If you feel your current treatment isn’t working, contact your doctor for a follow-up visit to discuss alternate options.

You should also talk with your doctor if what you’re experiencing is impacting your mental health. As a rule of thumb, experts recommend getting help for mental health symptoms that last for 2 or more weeks.

These may include one or more of the following:

  • daily anxiety or extreme irritability
  • persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness
  • extreme mood fluctuations, with alternating “highs” and “lows”
  • loss of interest in the activities you typically enjoy
  • struggles with everyday activities, including work
  • excessive fatigue or nighttime insomnia (or both)
  • restlessness
  • excessive worries or fears
  • concentration difficulties
  • changes in appetite
  • changes in body weight
  • unexplained body aches and pains
  • decreased libido
  • avoiding your friends or usual social activities
  • substance or alcohol abuse
  • suicidal thoughts

If you’re experiencing any of the above symptoms, talk with your doctor. Depending on their findings, they may refer you to a therapist or other mental health professional for support.

Aside from using doctor-recommended or prescribed moisturizers and topical steroids for severe AD, you may need to take oral medications to help treat mental health symptoms.

These may include:

  • antidepressants, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) or norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs)
  • anti-anxiety meds, such as benzodiazepines
  • mood stabilizers, including lithium
  • antipsychotic medications, such as neuroleptics

For ongoing depression and anxiety, seeing a therapist may also help. Psychotherapy (also known as talk therapy) may be especially useful in helping you reframe certain thoughts or behaviors.

You should also monitor both your eczema and mental health while taking other medications. Report any changes to your doctor.

A combination of medication and therapy may go a long way to treat a mental health condition.

Plus, there are other ways you can support your mental health — and possibly reduce AD triggers, too. These may include:

  • consistently getting enough sleep
  • meditating or doing deep breathing exercises
  • exercising daily, and taking a cool shower afterward if sweat is one of your eczema triggers
  • following an anti-inflammatory eating plan, such as the Mediterranean diet, which focuses on whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and healthy fats
  • staying socially active and spending time with loved ones

Research has demonstrated a strong link between moderate to severe eczema and mental health conditions, with depression and anxiety being the most common. Some people with eczema may also be at an increased risk of suicidal thoughts and actions.

It’s important to stay in touch with your doctor about both your eczema and your mental health. If you’re feeling anxious or depressed for longer than 2 weeks, talk with your doctor about how you’re feeling.

A healthcare professional can give you information on the available treatment options. Seek immediate help if you’re having thoughts of or attempting self-harm.

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