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Link Between Early Childhood Eczema And Psychological Problems Later

February 10, 2010

Eczema in early childhood may influence behavior and mental health later in life. This is a key finding of a prospective birth cohort study to which scientists of Helmholtz Zentrum Mnchen contributed. In cooperation with colleagues of Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität (LMU), Technische Universität Mnchen (TUM) and Marien-Hospital in Wesel, North Rhine-Westphalia this study followed 5,991 children who were born between 1995 and 1998. The study has been published in the current issue of the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology 125 (2010); 404-410.

Researchers, led by Assistant Professor Jochen Schmitt of Dresden University Hospital, Dr. Christian Apfelbacher (Heidelberg University Hospital) and Dr. Joachim Heinrich of the Institute of Epidemiology of Helmholtz Zentrum Mnchen, discovered that children who suffered from eczema during the first two years of life were more likely to demonstrate psychological abnormalities, in particular emotional problems, at age ten years than children of the same age who had not suffered from the disease. “This indicates that eczema can precede and lead to behavioral and psychological problems in children,” Dr. Heinrich explained.

Children whose eczema persisted beyond the first two years of life were more likely to have mental health problems than children who had eczema only in infancy.

Within the framework of the GINIplus study, scientists tracked the family history of the children, collected data on their physical health and emotional condition at age 10 years and gathered information on their daily lives. Questions were asked about the course of disease ““ also in early childhood ““ with special focus on diseases such as eczema, asthma, allergic rhinitis, stress tolerance and behavioral abnormalities.

Eczema is a non-infectious skin disease characterized by scaling itchy skin rashes. It is the most common skin disease in children and adolescents. Children who suffer from eczema are known to have an increased predisposition for hay fever and allergic asthma. Eczema symptoms are accompanied by a broad spectrum of secondary symptoms, such as sleep disorders.

“We suspect that it is mainly the secondary symptoms that have a long-term effect on the emotions of the affected children,” Joachim Heinrich said. The authors of the study therefore recommend documenting the occurrence of eczema as potential risk factor for later psychological problems in the children’s medical records, even if the actual primary disease abates and disappears during the course of childhood.

Original Publication: Schmitt J, Apfelbacher C, Chen C-M, Romanos, M, Sausenthaler, S, Koletzko S, Bauer C-P, Hoffmann U, Krämer U,  Berdel D, von Berg A, Wichmann H.-E, Heinrich J: Infant-onset eczema in relation to mental health problems at age 10 years: Results from a prospective birth cohort study (GINIplus). JACI 125 (2010), 404-410

The GINI study, which began in 1995, and its follow-up study GINIplus (German Infant Study on the Influence of Nutrition Intervention PLUS Environmental and Genetic Influences on Allergy Development) investigate the health of children in Germany. The objective of the prospective birth cohort study is to investigate the influence of nutrition, environmental factors and genetic predisposition on the health of children. Approximately 6000 children aged one to ten years are included in the study. Besides Helmholtz Zentrum Mnchen, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich, Technische Universität Mnchen, Marien-Hospital Wesel and the Environmental Health Research Institute of the University of Dsseldorf participate in the large-scale study. More…

Research in the Institute of Epidemiology (Director: Prof. Dr. H.-Erich Wichmann) at Helmholtz Zentrum Mnchen focuses on methodological problems related to the quantification of small risks, the impact of particles and airborne pollutants on the lung and the cardiovascular system, and the regional distribution and development of diseases of the respiratory tract and allergies. A new focus of the Institute is the molecular analysis of complex diseases (e.g. asthma, type 2 diabetes, cardiac infarction). The main aim is to investigate the role of environmental factors and genetic disposition in human health using epidemiological methods. More…

Image Caption: Eczema in early childhood. Photo: Bernd Untiedt.

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