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New AAD guidelines eye comorbidities in adults with atopic dermatitis



While it’s well established that atopic dermatitis (AD) in adults is associated with asthma, allergic rhinitis, and other atopic conditions, the links between AD and other comorbidities are coming into clearer focus.

According to new guidelines on comorbidities associated with AD in adults from the American Academy of Dermatology, published evidence supports an association between AD and comorbidities that may not be on the radar of clinicians and patients, including substance use, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), elements of metabolic syndrome, and various cardiovascular conditions.

Dawn Davis, MD, associate professor of dermatology and pediatrics at Mayo Clinic Rochester, Minn.

Dr. Dawn M.R. Davis

“There are more comorbidities with AD than we anticipated, that are supported by data in the literature,” Dawn M.R. Davis, MD, cochair and an author of the guidelines, told this news organization. “We are learning more about the interconnectivity of various medical conditions,” she continued. “Many skin diseases over time have been noted to be impactful to the whole person and not only the skin. A classic example of that is psoriasis. We now understand that psoriasis is a multisystem inflammatory disorder.”

As for AD, “we’ve always appreciated that AD patients tend to be at higher risk for other atopic diseases such as asthma, allergic rhinoconjunctivitis, and food allergies,” said Dr. Davis, of the departments of dermatology and pediatrics at the Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. “With further research, we are now able to delineate those associations more intimately and have data to support our suspicions. Additionally, we’re now understanding that these inflammatory conditions can impact more than the end organ involved, such as the skin and AD. We wanted to look at how AD can affect the whole patient.”

For the guidelines, which are the first of their kind and were published online in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, Dr. Davis and project cochair Robert Sidbury, MD, MPH, chief of dermatology at Seattle Children’s Hospital, led a multidisciplinary group of 12 experts to review the association between AD and selected comorbidities. They applied the Grading of Recommendations, Assessment, Development, and Evaluation (GRADE) for prognosis approach for assessing the certainty of the evidence and provided statements of association based on the available evidence.

With respect to highlights for atopic and allergic conditions, the guideline authors found high-quality evidence that AD in adults is associated with food allergies, moderate-quality evidence that AD is associated with asthma, and low-quality evidence that AD in adults may be associated with eosinophilic esophagitis.

In the realm of mental health and substance use, ample evidence exists to support an association between AD and mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety, the guidelines state. “For many patients, low mood may be driven by the symptoms of AD, including chronic itch and poor sleep,” Dr. Davis and her coauthors wrote. “Successfully treating AD may alleviate depressive symptoms for some patients; for others, assessment and treatment specific to their mental health may be needed.”

The guidelines also state that low-quality evidence exists to suggest that AD in adults may be associated with alcohol abuse disorders and cigarette smoking.

The authors noted “limited but consistent evidence” supporting a link between AD and adverse bone health, including osteoporosis and fractures, while associations between AD and cardiovascular risk factors and comorbidities, including hypertension, myocardial infarction, and stroke, are more controversial.

“I have published on bone health and AD so that was not as surprising to me,” Dr. Davis said in the interview. “I found a lot of the evidence in the guidelines to be validating of patterns that we see in our patients. The most significant learning point for me was [the link to] cardiovascular disease and the link to specific mental health and substance use disorders. It validates how impactful AD is to the individual.”

According to the guidelines, moderate-quality evidence exists linking AD in adults to both alopecia areata and urticaria. “Because we are dermatologists and take care of both of those diseases, be mindful of that in your daily practice,” Dr. Davis advised. “I would also encourage our colleagues to remember to educate patients on the comorbidities of AD so that they are empowered, and to screen for those comorbidities in your office based on the patient and their history and physical exam, to the level that you think is appropriate for that person’s individual’s care.”

Christine Ko, MD, who was asked to comment on the guidelines, characterized some of the reported comorbidity associations as predictable, such as asthma, food allergy, allergic rhinitis, and skin infections. “As the authors comment, ‘associations between AD and other atopic and allergic conditions have been recognized for decades and even contribute to diagnostic criteria for AD,’ ” said Dr. Ko, professor of dermatology and pathology at Yale University, New Haven, Conn, who was not involved with the guidelines. “I was a bit surprised to see that atopic dermatitis in adults is associated with osteoporosis and fractures. As the authors suggest, this could be secondary to treatment with oral prednisone, and it is possible that use of dupilumab and JAK inhibitors may lessen this association.”

Shawn G. Kwatra, MD, of the department of dermatology at Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, who was not involved with the guidelines, and was also asked to comment, said that the guidelines underscore the importance of informing adults with AD “of the risks of unchecked inflammation and the potential for multiple disease comorbidities.” Dr. Kwatra, who has AD, added that “these results make me want to be more proactive in treating my eczema to reduce the potential for development of these comorbidities.”

He pointed out that the guidelines did not address racial and ethnic differences in the observed comorbidities. “Unfortunately, minority populations have a greater comorbidity burden in many inflammatory skin diseases so this will be another area needing further investigation,” he said. “As an example, our group found from multicenter data that black patients with atopic dermatitis have higher levels of C-reactive protein, blood eosinophils, and other inflammatory biomarkers.”

The AAD guidelines are the first in a four-part series on AD expected to be published over the next 1-2 years, Dr. Davis said. The subsequent guidelines will address topicals, phototherapy/systemics, and pediatrics.

The study was funded by internal funds from the AAD. Dr. Davis reported having no financial disclosures. Dr. Sidbury disclosed that he serves as an advisory board member for Pfizer, a principal investigator for Regeneron, and an investigator for Brickell Biotech and Galderma. He is also a consultant for Galderma Global and Microes. Dr. Ko reported having no financial disclosures. Dr. Kwatra is a member of the board of directors of the Skin of Color Society. He is also an advisory board member/consultant for AbbVie, Galderma, Incyte, Pfizer, Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, and Sanofi, and has served as an investigator for Galderma, Pfizer, and Sanofi.

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