The skin: barrier or a battlefield?
A soft, outer organ wraps the human body. Stretching more than 20 square feet, it’s a shield and an insulator, protecting us from the sun, cold weather, and all types of germs and bacteria.1 It’s the skin, and just like many other parts of the body, it can become a battlefield if the immune system malfunctions.
Most people have heard of eczema, a common skin condition that causes dry, itchy skin which may become swollen, cracked, and thickened over time. But the origin of its name – “ekzein,” Greek for “to boil” – brings to mind its most severe form, atopic dermatitis (AD).
Atopic dermatitis is a chronic, inflammatory skin disease that affects each individual differently. In its most severe form, it can affect the entire body, including the face, trapping a person in a vessel of itchy, painful, inflamed skin with no clear way out.
“Atopic dermatitis can interfere with nearly every part of a person’s life,” says Aileen Pangan, M.D., executive medical director, immunology, AbbVie. “Physicians who treat atopic dermatitis and the patients themselves say the condition can cause serious problems, both physically and mentally. This can also have an impact on their social lives.”
Challenges in measuring the disease’s impact
It is estimated that up to 10% of adults and 25% of children live with atopic dermatitis globally, although those rates vary by location. 2, 3 Between 20 and 46 percent of adults with atopic dermatitis have moderate to severe disease.4 That’s a fairly high number of patients. Yet many people have never heard of this condition, and treatment options remain somewhat limited.
Atopic dermatitis isn’t always diagnosed accurately or in a timely fashion due to a variety of factors, including where a person lives or the type of physician he or she visits. These variables have led to a lack of or inconsistent data about the true global burden of AD, including how widespread it is and how it affects different populations in unique ways. That information could hold critical clues for scientists who are developing treatments for the disease.
Still, despite the gaps in information about atopic dermatitis, the scientific community has made great strides toward improving care for people who are living with this challenging disease.