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Connecting the Dots Between ADHD and Eczema

Posted on March 16, 2022
Medically reviewed by
Kevin Berman, M.D., Ph.D.
Article written by
Imee Williams

Eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis, is a chronic inflammatory skin condition that affects more than 30 million people in the United States. Living with eczema sometimes means having comorbidities — other medical issues caused by or related to the primary medical condition. Eczema is associated with other atopic diseases known as the “atopic march,” which include atopic dermatitis, asthma, allergic rhinitis, and food allergies. Over the last two decades, it has become clear that attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is also associated with eczema.

ADHD is the most common neurodevelopmental disorder among children, but adults can also develop it. Those living with ADHD often have symptoms such as overactivity or hyperactivity, impulsive behavior, or difficulty paying attention. These symptoms can cause problems in school, work, and social activities.

Experts have found that people living with eczema have a higher risk of developing ADHD. Those who have behavioral or mental health problems such as ADHD that appeared during childhood also have a higher risk of developing eczema.

In this article, we will discuss the relationship between eczema and ADHD as well as how you can manage eczema and ADHD.

Causes and Risk Factors Behind the Association

The relationship between ADHD and eczema has been well studied since the early 1990s. One study conducted in Germany found that infants with early-onset eczema had developed hyperactivity and inattention — the main symptoms of ADHD — as they grew older. More studies from various countries such as the United States, Taiwan, and Korea also observed similar findings, in which children with more severe eczema had a greater tendency to have ADHD.

Researchers have not yet found a biological mechanism to explain these findings, and there are no known environmental or lifestyle risk factors between eczema and ADHD. Genetic factors may play a role, but there has not been enough research to support these findings.

Experts have proposed some theories that may explain the apparent association between eczema and ADHD.

Sleep Disturbance

A factor that may support the association between atopic dermatitis and ADHD is sleep disturbance. Sleep disturbance, due to itching, is very common among people with eczema, and poor sleep is also common in those who have been diagnosed with ADHD. One study found that some children with severe atopic dermatitis had between zero and three nights of adequate sleep per week. These children were at an increased risk of ADHD compared to those with mild eczema. It is possible that eczema-related scratching throughout the night leads to poorer sleep, which can affect a child’s development.

Prolonged Stress Response

Another study observed that people with atopic dermatitis have greater stress responses, or increased sympathetic nervous system activity, even during nonstressful events. A prolonged stress response can lead to other health risks such as high blood pressure and heart disease. The stress response can also contribute to sleep disturbance among people living with eczema.

Inflammation

Another theory is that inflammation caused by eczema also negatively affects the developing brain, which may lead to the development of ADHD. However, more research needs to be done to investigate this theory.

Other Risk Factors

An earlier study also found other risk factors. Children with eczema who also have a history of anemia, headaches, and obesity had a greater chance of developing ADHD. This finding was also similar in adults with eczema.

Living With Eczema and ADHD

Having ADHD can make it more challenging to treat eczema in children and adults. It is important to manage and treat your eczema so that it doesn’t affect your mental health. Below are some ways to manage your eczema and ADHD.

Skin Care

A skin care routine can help prevent flare-ups or worsening of eczema symptoms. It’s important to take lukewarm baths and apply a moisturizer immediately after bathing, while the skin is warm and moist. Additionally, applying topical medications can help manage eczema symptoms. There is no evidence that shows negative side effects relating to behavioral health conditions from using topical medications to treat eczema. A good eczema treatment plan should improve a person’s sleep, and this may relieve some ADHD symptoms. However, if symptoms of ADHD remain unchanged or worsen, it may be best to reach out to a therapist or medical professional for help and explore other treatment options.

Better Sleep

Sleeping throughout the night can help mitigate the negative impact of eczema. A great way to achieve better sleep is through a consistent bedtime routine. Having a nighttime routine such as listening to calming music or doing relaxation breathing techniques has been shown to help with sleep disturbances and improve a person’s ADHD symptoms. Certain medications that help relieve itch may also aid in falling asleep.

Read here about more ways to help your child cope with sleep issues.

Exercise

Daily exercise has been shown to improve the quality of sleep, and creating a weekly exercise routine may help to improve ADHD symptoms.

Avoiding Eczema and ADHD Triggers

Reducing or avoiding eczema triggers is also essential to prevent flare-ups. Everyone’s eczema is different. What may trigger eczema in one person may not trigger symptoms in someone else. Common triggers include fragranced or dyed products, hot or cold climates, sweating, certain fabrics, and some laundry detergents.

Certain foods that contain caffeine, sugar, or additives can trigger or worsen ADHD symptoms. Also, avoiding overstimulating activities before bedtime — such as watching TV, rigorous exercise, or playing video games — can help improve a person’s quality of sleep and overall eczema and ADHD symptoms.

Managing ADHD

ADHD is often treated by a combination of medications, behavioral therapy, counseling, and education services. The initial treatment plan in children may include parent training in behavior management and behavioral classroom interventions. If ADHD symptoms are unchanged or worsen over time, medication is often recommended along with ongoing therapy.

Lifestyle changes to help you or your loved ones manage ADHD include:

  • Maintaining a healthy diet
  • Getting lots of physical activity
  • Sleeping enough
  • Creating a routine
  • Staying organized
  • Managing distractions

There is no cure for ADHD, and it may take some time to find the right treatment plan that can relieve most of the symptoms. Properly managing your ADHD and eczema can help you stay healthy, feel your best, and improve your quality of life.

Talk With Others Who Understand

On MyEczemaTeam, the social network for people with eczema, more than 41,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with eczema.

Do you have eczema and ADHD? Is your child experiencing these two conditions? What tips do you have for others? Share your thoughts in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on MyEczemaTeam.

All updates must be accompanied by text or a picture.
Kevin Berman, M.D., Ph.D. is a dermatologist at the Atlanta Center for Dermatologic Disease, Atlanta, GA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Learn more about him here.
Imee Williams is a freelance writer and Fulbright scholar, with a B.S. in neuroscience from Washington State University. Learn more about her here.

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