When caring for eczema-prone skin, sometimes a big piece of the puzzle can be separating factual information from fiction. While we can all agree that eczema is a complex condition, it’s important to understand that even the most well-meant advice can sometimes be misguided or even harmful.
For example, have you ever been told that your symptoms might be related to an autoimmune disease? If so, what you most need to know is that this assumption is false.
According to the National Eczema Association, eczema from atopic dermatitis does not fit the criteria of an autoimmune condition. But where exactly did this piece of misinformation come from to begin with? Let’s take a closer look at the real facts:
What is an autoimmune disease?
Starting with a quick definition, the term autoimmune disease refers to a condition that prevents the immune system from differentiating between foreign invaders and healthy cells. When this happens, the immune system may respond by attacking and even damaging the body’s own healthy tissues – including the joints, the skin, and other internal organs.
A few examples of autoimmune diseases that you may be familiar with include rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, celiac disease, psoriasis, Crohn's disease, multiple sclerosis, and others.
Eczema vs. Autoimmune: The Differences and Similarities
At the surface level, certain autoimmune diseases of the skin, like lupus or psoriasis, may look a lot like eczema and share common symptoms – such as redness, itching, sensitivity, and flaking skin. However, what makes eczema different from these conditions is that the symptoms stem from a different kind of immune response.
Understanding that the immune system may play a role in eczema, it makes sense that it might sometimes be confused with the autoimmune process. Even so, experts say there is no evidence to support this classification. Rather, it is believed that eczema may be an immune-driven condition, caused by overactivity of the immune system in response to other contributing factors.
While we don’t know exactly what causes eczema, we do know that it is essentially an inflammatory reaction to external influences and sensitivities – including certain foods, harsh climate conditions, stress, and environmental irritants – as opposed to an attack on an individual’s own systems and tissues.
Putting It All Together
Although it’s important to recognize that eczema and autoimmune diseases are not the same things, it is worth noting that recent research supports a possible connection between the two. For example, one study found that people with eczema may be twice as likely to have an autoimmune disease.
With this in mind, our advice is to always listen to your own body and seek out a medical professional that you trust if you feel concerned about any symptoms you are experiencing. Getting a proper diagnosis is key to developing an effective personal treatment plan and managing your health long-term.
Is Eczema an Autoimmune Disease? Spoiler Alert: Nope. By Angela Ballard RN for the National Eczema Association
Is eczema an autoimmune disease? By Sharleen St. Surin-Lord, MD, Medically reviewed by Zia Sherrell, MPH
Is Atopic Dermatitis an Autoimmune Disease? By Health Union LLC