Skin Defences against Staph Bacteria – Q&A with Dr Donald Davidson

I came across this study “IL-1 beta-induced protection of keratinocytes against Staphylococcus aureus-secreted proteases is mediated by human beta defensin 21” where the researchers studied how the skin protected itself against staphylococcus aureus (“staph bacteria”). This research is important because staph bacteria is known to colonize atopic dermatitis skin, and in doing so, have resulted in worsened control of atopic dermatitis. (Note to readers: Due to many types of eczema, it is recommended to use atopic dermatitis to avoid confusion with other types of eczema like contact dermatitis).

I’m privileged to interview the lead researcher for the study, Dr Donald J Davidson MBChB PhD. Dr Davidson is the MRC Senior Research Fellow and University of Edinburgh Senior Lecturer. The Davidson Group within the MRC Centre for Inflammation Research focuses on understanding the physiological importance of cationic host defence peptides (CHDP) to host defences against bacterial and viral infections. Dr Davidson is a medical graduate of the University of Edinburgh who chose to pursue a scientific research career. He completed a PhD at the MRC Human Genetics Unit, studying the pathogenesis of cystic fibrosis lung disease, then was awarded a Wellcome Trust Travelling Research Fellowship to undertake post-doctoral training in innate immunity research at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver. You can read more of his research interests here.

MarcieMom: Thank you Dr Davidson for taking the time to help with the questions. The questions will be based on the study, but more focused on its practical implications.

Staphylococcus Aureus

Staphylococcus aureus is a resilient bacteria found on the skin that can survive in dry condition and on dry skin with little oxygen.  It tends to involve areas that are warm and moist especially such as skin near mucous membranes such as the nose, mouth, genitals and anal area. It is found in less than 30% of healthy adults and generally does not cause an infection in those with healthy skin. However, as pointed out in the study, 75% to 100% of atopic dermatitis patients have staph bacteria on their lesional skin and 30% to 100% of atopic dermatitis patients have staph bacteria on their non-lesional skin (Breuer et al., 2002; Gong et al., 2006; Park et al., 2013). The problem with staph bacteria is that it secretes toxins and proteases that can worsen atopic dermatitis.

MarcieMom: From your study, protease V8 was of interest which showed it led to skin barrier dysfunction. Can you explain what you learnt about staphylococcus aureus’ interaction with atopic dermatitis skin/ normal skin and how does it damage skin integrity?

Dr Davidson: In our study we did not use the whole live bacteria, but concentrated instead on its harmful proteases. Using skin cells grown in the laboratory and collecting the substances made by the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus, we were able to show that the bacterial protease V8 was the most powerful product when it came to breaking down and damaging the skin barrier. Together with studies from other research groups, this suggested that one of the main ways these bacteria can damage skin is by producing V8, and that finding ways to block this damage may help to maintain and/or restore the skin integrity in atopic dermatitis.

Interview with Dr Donald J Davison, MRC Senior Research Fellow and Senior Lecturer at University of Edinburgh on his published study on skin defences against staphylococcus aureus bacteria

Interview with Dr Donald J Davison, MRC Senior Research Fellow and Senior Lecturer at University of Edinburgh on his published study on skin defences against staphylococcus aureus bacteria

Natural Skin Defence

In your study, it was mentioned that human beta defensin 2 (hBD2) is a substance on our skin that have antimicrobial properties and able to protect against skin integrity damage caused by staph bacteria protease V8. It was further noted that the level of hBD2 on atopic dermatitis skin was significantly lower than normal skin, therefore atopic dermatitis skin may be more prone to infection and unable to defend itself against staph bacteria.

MarcieMom: I hope I have understood hBD2’s role correctly; can you explain more about what you have found out about hBD2, for instance, how important is its role in maintaining skin integrity, fighting infection and the effects of protease V8?

Dr Davidson: Our bodies can make quite a wide range of substances we call antimicrobial host defence peptides (HDP). The skin is one site that produces these. These HDP have a lot of different roles in protecting us from infection and disease. hBD2 is an HDP from the defensin family. hBD2 was already known to be capable of killing bacteria in the laboratory. It is less clear if it definitely does this in normal functioning on our skin. However, it has been suggested by other researchers that the failure of atopic dermatitis skin to make as much hBD2 as one would expect (for the amount of skin inflammation or damage), could be one reason that atopic dermatitis skin lesions are prone to infection. What our new MRC-funded research discovered was that hBD2 can also stop V8 from damaging laboratory-grown skin. This worked both when we instructed the skin to make extra hBD2 (using genetic modification) and when we added hBD2 in the style of a treatment. Just how important this is in a living human remains to be seen, but it has obvious potential and shows that hBD2 can protect the skin barrier as well as kill bacteria.

Skin defences against staph bacteria protease v8

Skin defences against staph bacteria protease v8

Topical Application

MarcieMom: The interesting part of your study was its demonstration that application of hBD2 was found to be protective, and therefore a possible future eczema therapeutic. How does the application of hBD2 work? What are its protective effects?

Dr Davidson: At this point we don’t know how hBD2 protects this skin barrier integrity and we are currently applying for more funding so that we can start to work this out. It may act directly on the V8 to block the damaging effects of this bacterial protease, but we’ve found that it can also help to speed up repair where damage has occurred. So hBD2 may work in more than one way.

Is this something you foresee that can be easily added into a moisturizer or would it be more likely to be a non-steroidal topical prescription?

Dr Davidson: At this stage we are still in the discovery science phase of the research, so it is too early to predict how, and even whether, it will turn out to be a useful treatment. However, in the best case scenario for the outcome of our research, I would envisage adding hBD2 (or drugs made to mimic some of its functions) into prescription moisturizer-type creams or ointments.

How would the application of hBD2 be compared with the existing eczema measures such as bleach bath to kill staph bacteria?

Dr Davidson: I’m afraid it is too early to be able to make comparisons of that kind, until we have a better understanding of exactly how hBD2 functions to protect the skin barrier.

MarcieMom: Thank you Dr Davidson once again for your time and will certainly look forward to further breakthroughs and more studies done in this area.

Reference:

  1. Wang B, McHugh BJ, Qureshi A, Campopiano DJ, Clarke DJ, Fitzgerald JR, Dorin JR, Weller R, Davidson DJ, IL-1beta-induced protection of keratinocytes against Staphylococcus aureus-secreted proteases is mediated by human beta defensin 2, The Journal of Investigative Dermatology (2016), doi: 10.1016/j.jid.2016.08.025.

  2. Breuer K, S HA, Kapp A, Werfel T (2002) Staphylococcus aureus: colonizing features and influence of an antibacterial treatment in adults with atopic dermatitis. Br J Dermatol 147:55-61.

  3. Gong JQ, Lin L, Lin T, Hao F, Zeng FQ, Bi ZG, et al. (2006) Skin colonization by Staphylococcus aureus in patients with eczema and atopic dermatitis and relevant combined topical therapy: a double-blind multicentre randomized controlled trial. Br J Dermatol 155:680-7.

  4. Park HY, Kim CR, Huh IS, Jung MY, Seo EY, Park JH, et al. (2013) Staphylococcus aureus Colonization in Acute and Chronic Skin Lesions of Patients with Atopic Dermatitis. Ann Dermatol 25:410-6.

Allergic Contact Dermatitis in Children (II) – Q&A with Dr Steve Xu

This is a continuation of last week’s interview with Dr Steve Xu MD MSc where we discussed contact dermatitis, the differences between irritant and contact dermatitis, the top 10 pediatric contact allergens in personal hygiene products and practical consideration of when to suspect contact dermatitis in a child.

Dr Steve Xu, MD MSc is currently a 2nd year dermatology resident at McGaw Medical Center of Northwestern University. He earned his MD from Harvard as a Soros Fellow, and a Masters in Health Policy and Finance from The London School of Economics as a Marshall Scholar. He completed a BS in bioengineering at Rice University. For his academic interests, Steve is focused on consumer education and the intersection between health policy and clinical medicine. His publications have appeared in The New England Journal of Medicine, and PLOS Medicine garnering broad press attention from sources such as CNN, The Washington Post, and The Los Angeles Times. Dr Steve has created a web resource for patients with eczema and contact dermatitis at itchyrash.org. See also Dr Steve’s publications at the end of last week’s post.

Dermatologist Dr Steve Xu MD

Dr Steve Xu MD, MSc

On ‘Bland’ Skincare Products

MarcieMom: I’ve emphasized in my blog that the fewer the ingredients, the less likely it is to irritate (such as in this expert interview and also in the moisturizer selection post)

Yet, practically (I’m finding myself using this word so frequently in this 2-part interview! It must be that it is so hard to take practical steps when it comes to skincare products and figuring out irritants, allergens and pushing through the myriad of chemical names!) and yes, practically it can be difficult to find a skincare product with less than 10 ingredients! Pharmaceutical companies seem to add more ingredients to their formulation in order to ‘upgrade’ their product to one that can restore your skin’s lipids, ceramides, reduce itch and bacterial infection.

MarcieMom: Is there a trend towards more ingredients in the formulation of skincare products? And is it a real risk or can consumers assume that product companies would have tested their increasingly complex formulation that it would not lead to contact dermatitis? 

Dr Steve Xu: Again, labels such as ‘hypo-allergenic’ or ‘sensitive skin’ really don’t mean anything. The Food and Drug Administration do not regulate this definition. Consumers have to be aware of this.

I wouldn’t say there’s a trend towards more ingredients in skincare products. Skincare products aren’t produced for hypo-allergenicity. These products are successful because they smell nice (fragrances), feel good on the skin, and stay fresh (preservatives). I think for individuals with patch-test proven allergic contact dermatitis, it’s really important to follow the safe list. But, if you haven’t been patch tested yet and have very sensitive skin, then looking for products with as few ingredients as possible AND do not have common skin allergens is a reasonable consideration.

Moisturizer Selection

Moisturizer Selection – Reducing possible contact allergens

MarcieMom: Staph bacteria has been covered in my blog, and we know that eczema skin that has staph bacteria colonization will not recover well due to inflammatory toxins from the bacteria. Are moisturizers for eczema/ dry skin incorporating antiseptic properties? Which antiseptics are now recommended for eczema children and how likely are these to irritate skin?

Dr Steve Xu: Absolutely, treating staph colonization is a big component of successfully treating atopic dermatitis. Moisturizers typically don’t have anti-bacterial ingredients. But, we do know that impaired or broken skin barrier facilitates the colonization and growth of staph. Thus, moisturizers play a big role in keeping the skin barrier intact so that staph can’t cause problems.

At least in the U.S., we hardly ever specifically recommend an ‘anti-septic’ moisturizer. It’s interesting to see that there are products out there marketed as such. We separate the use of moisturizers (barrier protection) and the elimination of colonizing bacteria (mupirocin ointment, bleach bathes). Typically for our patients, we always recommend moisturizers for skin barrier preservation but tend to be more reactive when it comes to recommending bleach bathes or mupirocin ointment at the sign of super infection (formation of pustules).

With that being said, lauric acid is certainly an ingredient that is becoming more and more popular. It is the key component in coconut oil, which has shown to have a broad range of antibacterial properties.

Long-story short, I think there’s probably a benefit from using antiseptics more regularly in managing atopic dermatitis. We know that the skin of eczema children have less anti-microbial peptides, natural bacteria fighting proteins produced by the skin. There’s no great head to head studies comparing coconut oil (moisturizer + anti-septic properties) vs. a regular moisturizer in managing atopic dermatitis. But, I think there is some benefit here that may be real for some patients that have a particular sensitivity to staph colonization.

Skin of eczema children is more susceptible to staph bacteria colonization

Skin of eczema children is more susceptible to staph bacteria colonization

Also, common over-the-counter topical antibiotics such as neomycin and bacitracin are notorious agents for causing allergic contact dermatitis. We typically do not recommend these for children with atopic dermatitis. In the United States, we prefer topical mupirocin (prescription only). This medication rarely causes allergic contact dermatitis compared to neomycin or bacitracin.

Age of Allergic Contact Dermatitis

In the article1, it was mentioned that studies have shown that there are different age (timing) where there is peak prevalence of contact allergy among children, being

  1. 0 – 3 years old – could be due to immature skin barrier, including lower lipid content, fewer natural moisturizing components, higher pH and thinner epidermis
  2. 6 – 7 years old
  3. Adolescence

MarcieMom: Are there a certain group of children who is more likely to have contact dermatitis? Narrowing this further, is there a particular profile of eczema children who are more likely to also have contact dermatitis?

Dr Steve Xu: This is a great question. I think certainly, older children and adolescents will have had greater exposure to potential allergens over time. However, an allergic contact dermatitis can occur at any age including toddlers. I think the most important thing is to have a high index of suspicion for allergic contact dermatitis in children with atopic dermatitis.

Is your child’s atopic dermatitis not getting better despite the best therapy?

Is your child’s atopic dermatitis appearing in areas that it never appeared before?

Are there eczematous rashes that seem to happen in the same locations such as the belly button, neck, waistband or wrist? Do the rashes appear linear (straight) or rectangular?

We’ve had plenty of pediatric patients with stable atopic dermatitis that would inexplicably get worse or not respond to therapy. After patch testing, we would identify a common allergen such as nickel. The rashes won’t get better unless nickel is avoided.

Corticosteroids

In the article1, it was mentioned that the most “allergenic” corticosteroids are:

  1. Budesonide
  2. Trixocortal pivalate
  3. Hydrocortisone butyrate

The least allergenic are those with halogenated C16-methylated molecules and in order of increasing potency:

  1. Aclomethasone dipropionate
  2. Beta-methasone valerate
  3. Memoetasone furoate
  4. Desoximethasone
  5. Clobatesol propionate
Corticosteroids - Potency and Allergenicity

Corticosteroids – Potency and Allergenicity

Again, there is the possibility of children with atopic dermatitis using more topical steroids and therefore getting hypersensitive to it overtime.

MarieMom: The article mentioned classifying topical steroid creams using different groups, based on their likelihood of being contact allergens. The likelihood can be due to different molecular (steroid) structure, the other non-steroid ingredients in the prescription cream, how long it is used and how occlusive it is (topical steroid creams are not recommended with wet wraps as absorption rates are higher than intended when occluded).

MarcieMom: What are the common steroid creams prescribed for young children with eczema? And how likely will they cause contact dermatitis?

Dr Steve Xu: Overall, a true allergic contact dermatitis to topical steroids is quite rare. Aclomethasone and desoximethasone are both popular choices.

I will say that sometimes it’s better judicious to not always reach for the least hypo-allergenic topical steroid at first. In the vast majority of time, a children will not have a contact allergy to a topical steroid. If we reach for a hypo-allergenic topical steroid and a contact allergy does develop, we have less therapeutic options in the future.

MarcieMom: Thank you Dr Steve for your time to help with this series; really glad for this interview as it has certainly raised my awareness of contact dermatitis in children (where previously thought to be remote). Also appreciate the work that you’re doing at itchyrash.org

References:

  1. Hannah Hill, Alina Goldenberg, Linda Golkar, Kristyn Beck, Judith Williams & Sharon E. Jacob (2016): Pre-Emptive Avoidance Strategy (P.E.A.S.) – addressing allergic contact dermatitis in pediatric populations, Expert Review of Clinical Immunology, DOI: 10.1586/1744666X.2016.1142373

Allergic Contact Dermatitis in Children (I) – Q&A with Dr Steve Xu

Eczema is a skin condition with many parts to the puzzle – it is linked to hereditary skin condition, allergens (food, inhaled, contact and airborne), environmental factors (heat, humidity), bacteria colonization on skin (and how gut microbiome may affect allergic conditions), lifestyle factors (stress, hormonal change) and also suspected to be linked with diet/ water. Very often we may think of what we have eaten, rather than what we have applied on our skin. A moisturizer or topical prescription tend not to fall under our usual ‘list of suspects’ when we try to figure out what’s triggering the eczema.

This 2-part blog series aim to bring greater awareness of contact allergens, and how some of these may be the ingredients in your skincare products. Especially for pediatric patients, we have to be even more careful because:

  1. Babies’ skin barrier is thinner than that of an adult- making it extra vulnerable to chemical irritants (also greater transepidermal water loss and therefore, moisturizing is important)
  2. Increasing research showing that a strong skin barrier has protective effect against eczema, and reduce likelihood of food sensitization
  3. Babies have a larger surface area to volume ratio, therefore potentially the risk associated with chemical absorption is higher
Contact allergens is of particular importance to pediatric patients

Contact allergens is of particular importance to pediatric patients

I’m privileged to have dermatologist Steve Xu, MD MSc to help with this series. Dr Steve is currently a 2nd year dermatology resident at McGaw Medical Center of Northwestern University. He earned his MD from Harvard as a Soros Fellow, and a Masters in Health Policy and Finance from The London School of Economics as a Marshall Scholar. He completed a BS in bioengineering at Rice University. For his academic interests, Steve is focused on consumer education and the intersection between health policy and clinical medicine. His publications have appeared in The New England Journal of Medicine, and PLOS Medicine garnering broad press attention from sources such as CNN, The Washington Post, and The Los Angeles Times. Dr Steve has created a web resource for patients with eczema and contact dermatitis at itchyrash.org. See also Dr Steve’s publications at the end of this post.

Dermatologist Dr Steve Xu MD

Dr Steve Xu MD, MSc

Allergic Contact Dermatitis – What is it?

MarcieMom: Contact dermatitis refer to skin rash that is triggered by contact with an allergen/ irritant. If the immune response is that related to IgE, it would be allergic contact dermatitis; conversely, if the response is due to overtime exposure to the irritant (leading the skin to develop delayed-type hypersensitivity), it is irritant contact dermatitis. 

The thing is a child can have all the different types of dermatitis – atopic, allergic contact and irritant contact.

MarcieMom: Dr Steve, thank you for joining me for this series. The different terms can get very confusing for parents of eczema children. How would you explain the different types of dermatitis to a patient?

Dr Steve Xu:  Right now even within the scientific community, there’s a big debate on what exactly we should call ‘eczema’. At our institution (Northwestern University), this is how we break it down.

The term ‘eczema’ itself actually describes how a certain rash looks.  Atopic dermatitis, allergic contact dermatitis, and irritant contact dermatitis all can cause an ‘eczema’ rash that looks exactly the same. Eczema used as a standalone term isn’t really specific.

For classic childhood ‘eczema’, we refer to this as atopic dermatitis. Allergic and irritant contact dermatitis is defined as a condition where an external agent leads to an eczematous rash. We define the difference between allergic and contact dermatitis here. Basically, an allergic contact dermatitis is defined by an immune-mediated response to an external agent applied to the skin. These reactions typically require only a very small amount of the agent to lead to a rash. Irritant contact dermatitis is not immune related but leads to an indistinguishable eczematous reaction. Typically, more of an external agent must be applied to cause a rash in irritant contact dermatitis.

MarcieMom: In practical terms, is diagnosing the type of dermatitis important? Or knowing the triggers are adequate for management of eczema?

Dr Steve Xu: Yes, definitely. An irritant contact dermatitis usually requires more of the external agent to cause a rash. This is practically important because if you only have an irritant contact dermatitis you may be able to tolerate products that are wash off or rinse off. If you have an allergic contact dermatitis, then we recommend avoidance altogether. Even a little exposure can cause a miserable rash.

Prevalence of Allergic Contact Dermatitis

There is increasing evidence that allergic contact dermatitis is underreported in children and while traditionally thought as unlikely for children, contact dermatitis is becoming more common.

MarcieMom: In the article1, the top ten pediatric allergens found in personal hygiene products are listed (with the first as having most percentage of children being hypersensitive to it):

  1. Neomycin – topical antibiotic, another contact allergen is over-the-counter antibiotic Bacitracin
  2. Balsam of Peru – also known as Myroxylon pereirae, chemically related to fragrance and thus used to screen for fragrance allergy
  3. Fragrance mix – Of the flowering plants, the Comositae family is the most likely to cause skin sensitization, such as chamomile, dandelion and ragweed; also cross-reactive with propolis (beeswax)
  4. Benzalkonium chloride – ammonium compound used as preservative, including in disinfecting wipes and eye drops
  5. Lanolin – natural oil from sebum of wool-bearing animals
  6. Cocamidopropyl betaine (CAPB) – used as a surfactant
  7. Formaldehyde – preservative, also associated with quaternium 15, imidazolindinyl urea (most common), diazolidinyl urea, bronopol, dimethyl-dimethyl hydantoin (this can get very tricky to memorize, readers can refer to this table created by dermapathologist in a previous interview)
  8. Methylchlorsothiazolinone (MCI)/ Methylisothiazolinone (MI) – likely to be in bubble baths, soaps, cosmetic products, and baby wipes
  9. Propylene glycol – previously common in moisturizers (but many brands stopped including propylene glycol: it has humectant properties and also an emulsifier) and topical steroids
  10. Corticosteroids – when using steroid creams, we have to be aware of its potency, but we may now have to know its likelihood of being contact allergen (we will discuss this next week)
Top 10 Pediatric Contact Allergens in Personal Hygiene Products

Top 10 Pediatric Contact Allergens in Personal Hygiene Products

Other than the above 10, the other well-known contact allergens are cetylstearyl alcohol, sodium lauryl sulphate, pehnoxyethanol, parabens, TEA (triethanolamine) and vitamin E.

Nickel and cobalt are also common contact allergens but less likely that children will come into contact with them.

MarcieMom: It is interesting to note that the above can be found in personal care products, even in those marketed for children. I’m wondering if there is an increase in sensitization in personal hygiene/ skincare products? If so, why? (for instance, is it the increased use of products? Or increased awareness/ patch testing/ consultation)

Dr Steve Xu: The prevalence of contact dermatitis has remained stable overall but certain chemicals are representing a larger share of problems. This is related to industry trends. For example, as formaldehyde was phased out over the past 20 years in personal care products, we’ve seen a growing use of methylisothiazolinone as a preservative. It’s unsurprising that methylisothiazolinone contact allergy is rising rapidly.

Pediatric dermatologists have really worked hard to raise awareness among pediatricians and allergists about contact dermatitis in kids with atopic dermatitis. More than half of kids with atopic dermatitis will have a relevant positive patch test. In general, we’re arguing that kids with atopic dermatitis should be patch tested more and tested for food allergies less

Parents need to know that just because a product is labeled “For babies” or “Safe for kids”, it doesn’t mean it’s any different than what products are sold for adults. These are just marketing claims. Statements like “sensitive skin safe” ororganicalso aren’t regulated. Even carefully reading the labels may not be completely fool-proof. Often times, manufacturers do not have to be specific about which fragrance they are using (different fragrances can cause contact dermatitis).

MarcieMom: Practically, this feels like being caught between a rock and a hard place. The baby’s skin loses more moisture, has less lipids and for babies with dry skin, even more so we have to moisturize. Now, we know the common contact allergens to avoid and of course, should take the effort to read the product label and make sure we’re not putting something on our babies with these allergens. YET, the more we put something on our babies, the more likely the skin can become sensitized to it overtime! (for instance, lanolin, CAPB weren’t previously contact allergens)

MarcieMom: Is there a strategy to moisturizing to reduce likelihood of contact dermatitis? For instance, rotating skincare products which one expert has previously mentioned.

Dr Steve Xu: We often have patients come into our clinic with classic allergic contact dermatitis and exclaim: “I haven’t changed my products in years!”. In truth, this is exactly how a contact allergy develops. It’s true that small, continued exposures over time train your immune system to develop an allergy.

Interview with dermatologist Dr Steve Xu, MD

Interview with dermatologist Dr Steve Xu, MD

With that being said and to the best of my knowledge, there are no well-designed clinical studies showing that rotating skincare products reduces the risk of future allergic contact dermatitis. I’m hesitant to recommend this strategy.

Here’s some practical advice to perhaps help answer this question. Let’s say you have a child with atopic dermatitis and it’s fairly well controlled. Over the course of a period of time, let’s say the atopic dermatitis has taken a turn for the worst and is not getting better with optimal therapy. Or, let’s say that that the atopic dermatitis is appearing in areas it never has before (e.g. belly button, waistband, wrist). Then, this is a time to consider whether there is a simultaneous allergic or irritant contact dermatitis. Patch testing would be recommended.

If there is a relevant positive patch test, than this is the time to follow a safe list. Severely limiting what skincare products or household products can be used in the absence of a patch-test proven allergen may be overkill.

MarcieMom: Thank you Dr Steve for helping us to understand more about contact dermatitis; for me, I’ve learnt that there is practical benefit of knowing the type of dermatitis one is suffering from, and being mindful of the possible development of contact dermatitis for an eczema child. Look forward to next week where we will discuss more about skincare product, prevalence of contact dermatitis in kids and corticosteroids.

References:

  1. Hannah Hill, Alina Goldenberg, Linda Golkar, Kristyn Beck, Judith Williams & Sharon E. Jacob (2016): Pre-Emptive Avoidance Strategy (P.E.A.S.) – addressing allergic contact dermatitis in pediatric populations, Expert Review of Clinical Immunology, DOI: 10.1586/1744666X.2016.1142373

For some of Dr Steve’s publications, see below:

  1. Xu S, Walter JR and Bhatia A. Online Reported User Satisfaction with Laser and Light Treatments: Need for Caution. Dermatologic Surgery. Published online September 9th, 2016. DOI: 10.1097/DSS.0000000000000862.
  2. Xu S, Kwa M, Agarwal A, Rademaker A, and Kundu RV. Sunscreen Product Performance and Other Determinants of Consumer Preference. JAMA Dermatology. 2016. 152(8):920-927.
  3. Walter JR and Xu S. Therapeutic Transdermal Drug Innovation from 2000-2014: Current Status and Future Outlook. 2015. Drug Discovery Today. 2015. 20(11):1293-1299.
  4. Walter JR and Xu S. Topical Drug Innovation from 2000 through 2014. JAMA Dermatology. 2015. 151(7):792-794.
  5. Xu S, Heller M, Wu PA and Nambudiri VE. Chemical Burn Caused by Topical Application of Garlic Under Occlusion. Dermatology Online Journal. 2014. 20(1). URL: https://escholarship.org/uc/item/88v527wg.

Topical Corticosteroid Withdrawal – Q&A with Prof Hugo

In March 2015, the National Eczema Association (NEA, in US) published a study on steroid addiction in patients with atopic dermatitis. This was by members of its task force, who looked into the evidence regarding steroid withdrawal as many eczema sufferers were asking about the steroid addiction syndrome, along with many cautioning and enquiring on this online and over social media. The use of steroid creams remains a common treatment option, and the phobia of steroids has also stopped eczema sufferers, including children, from receiving treatment. The questions we are exploring with Professor Hugo centered on:

  1. What is steroid addiction?
  2. What is steroid withdrawal and its symptoms?
  3. Is steroid addiction/ withdrawal common?
  4. What are the treatment options for eczema?

Professor Hugo is no stranger to this blog – He has previously helped in Friday Doctor Q&A in 2012 and is my co-author for our book “Living with Eczema – Mom Asks, Doc Answers”. Professor Hugo van Bever is the Professor in Paediatrics (MD, PhD) at the National University Singapore, and also the Senior Consultant in its Division of Paediatric Allergy, Immunology & Rheumatology.

The questions are loosely structured based on the paper published by the National Eczema Association, to address the above questions that are surely on the minds of many parents with eczema children.

Topical corticosteroid withdrawal

What is Steroid Addiction?

MarcieMom: Steroid addiction is used broadly to refer to eczema sufferers whose skin are “addicted” to the topical corticosteroids, and therefore, when they stop applying the steroid creams, they experience steroid withdrawal and its adverse symptoms.

MarcieMom: I looked up the meaning of addiction online and found a broader definition by MedicineNet.com that defines addiction as

“An uncontrollable craving, seeking, and use of a substance such as alcohol or another drug. Dependence is such an issue with addiction that stopping is very difficult and causes severe physical and mental reactions.”

Medical definitions of addiction linked addiction to a brain disease, rather than a skin disease. Is it even possible for the skin to crave topical corticosteroids and be dependent on it to the extent that stopping is difficult?

Professor Hugo: I disagree with the word “addiction”, as the situation here doesn’t refer to a mental state (addiction always refers to a mental state). As for the possibility of the skin being addicted, the answer is NO!

To me, it is more a “bad habit” of using topical corticosteroids (TCS), mainly because of wrong expectations of this treatment. When used inappropriately (such as too long, too high, too frequent, or too strong), every medication (even a simple anti-fever medication) can cause side effects or unwanted (unexpected) effects. That’s why it doesn’t surprise me that inappropriate usage of TCS can cause withdrawal effects or, at least, unexpected side effects – I strongly doubt the existence of a withdrawal syndrome (especially when there are no specific biopsy features).

What is Steroid Withdrawal and its Symptoms?

MarcieMom: From Dermnetz, topical corticosteroid withdrawal refers to:

(1)   A rash that has appeared within days to weeks of discontinuing topical corticosteroid that has been used for many months. This flare may be worse than the pre-treatment rash. Before stopping the topical corticosteroid, the skin is typically normal or near-normal, although localised itch, ‘resistant’ patches of eczema or prurigo-like nodules may be present; and

(2)   The rash must be only where the topical corticosteroid was being applied, at least initially, although it can later spread more widely.

From the review article by NEA, there are two types of rash:

(1)   Eythematoedematous type – meaning redness (thus topical steroid withdrawal is also referred to as the Red Skin Syndrome), typically found in patients with an underlying eczema-like skin condition like atopic or seborrheic dermatitis; or

(2)   Papulopustular type – meaning with bumps and pimples, typically found in patients who used topical corticosteroids for cosmetic purpose like acne or pigment.

The withdrawal symptoms include:

  1. Burning and stinging
  2. Erythema (redness)
  3. Mostly on the face and genital area of women
  4. Exacerbation with heat or sun
  5. Pruritus (itch)
  6. Pain
  7. Facial hot flashes

Both types of rash primarily affect the face of adult females and are mostly associated with inappropriately using mid- to high-potency topical corticosteroids daily for more than 12 months.

MarcieMom: First of all, it is important to understand what a review article is. It is not a controlled trial, meaning there are no two groups of people that are given different treatments and thereafter the results are evaluated. Instead, it systematically reviews other studies. The limitation of the study is that the quality of evidence in regard to topical corticosteroid withdrawal in the studies reviewed were very low.

MarcieMom: Is there a way to study topical steroid withdrawal definitively?

Professor Hugo: The article is a collection of case reports, and not a study. There are no studies on the subject. Therefore, the quality of the science behind this is very low. It is a misuse of TCS, and you cannot ask patients (is not ethical) to misuse a treatment in order to prove side effects. Better is to look for its existence in patients who didn’t misuse TCS, but I assume the prevalence will be close to zero.

MarcieMom: It is also briefly discussed in the review article that the signs and symptoms of atopic dermatitis may be confused with that of steroid withdrawal. It is suggested in the review article that if:

(1) Burning is the prominent symptom, and

(2) Confluent erythema (meaning continuous red patches) occurs within days to weeks after stopping topical corticosteroids, with

(3) History of frequent, prolonged topical corticosteroid use on the face or genital region, then the symptoms are more likely to be from topical steroid withdrawal (rather than other forms of dermatitis).

MarcieMom: How do we know if the rash is caused by steroid withdrawal and not something else? Would you contact patch testing for contact allergens?

Professor Hugo: The so-called withdrawal syndrome (as a consequence of misusage of TCS) is mainly made-up by a re-occurrence of eczema lesions, as shown by looking at the results of the biopsy studies: the withdrawal syndrome has no specific biopsy features, but mainly features of eczema. Therefore, I am not sure whether the withdrawal syndrome is a separate entity, or whether it is mainly an expression of re-occurrence of eczema. Indeed, I strongly doubt of its existence.

I think the withdrawal syndrome is NOT a new syndrome, but merely a flare-up of eczema on an altered skin (because of the long-term usage of TCS).

It is not a new syndrome because:

  1. It has no specific clinical features (all manifestations might be manifestations of a re-occurring eczema)
  2. It has no biological marker (blood)
  3. It has no solid underlying mechanism – hypothesis
  4. Biopsy finding are similar of findings in eczema (no specific biopsy)

It is merely a re-manifestation eczema, but on an altered skin, because of the long-term usage (misusage) of TCS.

  1. Alterations of the skin can be summarized as following:
  2. A thinner epidermis (as a consequence of misuse of TCS)
  3. Higher Staphylococcus aureus colonization, as TCS do not affect Staph colonization – this explains the papular / pustular (infected) features of the lesions
  4. A concomitant contact dermatitis (to TCS or other substances)

Contact dermatitis is a possibility, but is not common in children (more in adults), especially after years of usage of creams.

Is Steroid Addiction/ Withdrawal common?

In the review article, there were various factors that contributed to topical corticosteroid withdrawal, namely:

  1. Mid or high potency use of topical corticosteroids
  2. Daily use of topical corticosteroids (only one out of the 34 studies recorded frequency)
  3. Duration of use longer than a year

From the studies reviewed, only 7.1% of the cases reported (in these studies) were of patients 18 years and younger. Only 0.3% were for children younger than 3 years.

MarcieMom: The general guideline in topical corticosteroid use for children is using a mild to (no higher than) mid potency, no more than twice a day, for a two week period. Professor Hugo, do you think that it is likely that children will suffer from topical steroid withdrawal even with the right use of prescribed steroid cream?

Professor Hugo: Patients should know that eczema (or atopic dermatitis) is a non-curable disease and that no doctor in the world can cure eczema today (perhaps in the future a cure will be found, mainly through immunomodulatory treatments, but not for the moment i.e. at the time of this interview in September 2016).

TCS are effective in controlling inflammation of the skin, and are, therefore, a part of the therapeutic approach to eczema. However: 1) TCS are ONLY (!) part of the treatment, which constitutes of offering a holistic package to the patient (focused on life style, and on usage of other treatments), and 2) once TSC are stopped the lesions will re-occur, as TCS do not cure, but only control inflammation, and 3) the rule is to use mild TCS (according to age and severity of the patches), in combination with antiseptics (TCS on a clean eczema patch) and NEVER more than 2 x day.

The main observation here is that this withdrawal effect is not caused by the TCS on itself, but by the inappropriate usage (i.e. misusage, leading to over-usage) of it. The unwanted effect was mainly seen in adult women (in more than 90%) who were using their TCS as if it was a kind of moisturizer. In other words, every time they felt a little itch or saw a little flare-up they put their TSC on it, many times per day, and during long periods (in 85.2% for more than 1 year).

The main point here is that TCS were misused, mainly because patients had wrong expectations of TCS, which I assumed is due to lack of correct information on eczema and on the role of TCS in its treatment. Who is to blame? I guess, both the doctor and the patient, and, for sure, the wrong doctor-patient relationship and wrong communication. Correct information on eczema and on the role of TCS is pivotal.

When TCS are used appropriately, as part of the holistic treatment of eczema, and according to correct expectations, it is extremely unlikely that a withdrawal syndrome will occur. I even dare to state that it is even (almost) impossible. However, I recommend close monitoring of all children with eczema, with appropriate individualization of treatment, focused on offering a treatment package in which TCS have a role, but only as a controller of acute inflammation, and with strict rules on their usage.

What are the treatment options for eczema?

MarcieMom: There are many brands and types of topical corticosteroid creams available, with varying potency and with different chemicals, and functions (for instance, with the added ingredients to reduce bacteria or fungus). Often, there is a trial and error process to see if a certain prescription cream works.

MarcieMom: How would a patient know if the steroid cream is not working for his rash? Is there a safe period of trial before stopping?

Professor Hugo: TCS are only PART of the treatment, and usually have a fast effect on acute inflammation (1 – 3 days). For each patient the optimal TCS needs to be selected (based on severity and age) and needs to fit into the whole package of treatment.

MarcieMom: There are many other eczema therapeutics that can be used alongside topical corticosteroids or in place of topical corticosteroids, for instance:

  1. Moisturizing – with a quality emollient that does not contain major irritants and have humectant properties and lipids to help with skin lipid deficiency
  2. Bathing – Basic good bathing routine like no hot water, no soap, no longer than ten minute, pat dry and not rub dry AND moisturizing immediately after
  3. Wet wrap or dry wrap
  4. Ways to reduce staph bacteria, such as swimming, using diluted zinc sulphate or chlorhexidine gluconate
  5. Non-steroidal prescriptions like topical calcineurin inhibitors
  6. Antihistamines (non-conclusive research)

MarcieMom: I’m a believer that one ought to diligently practice good bathing and moisturizing regime, reduce staph bacteria colonization, along with healthy lifestyle (non-inflammatory diet and exercise). However, I find that sometimes we tend to discuss topical corticosteroids exclusively, i.e. use topical corticosteroids or (do something else). What are your top 3 eczema therapeutics in your practice and how effective has these reduce the use of topical corticosteroids in your young patients?

Professor Hugo: My top 3 are: allergen avoidance (airborne food, house dust mites  – which is an outdoor life style) – usage of antiseptics (swimming – baby spa) and extensive usage of moisturizers have important additional effects and are therefore TCS-sparing.

MarcieMom: In summary, topical corticosteroid withdrawal is increasingly acknowledged by the dermatological community as evident by NEA taking the step to conduct a systematic review. However, we have seen that it is not easy to diagnose topical steroid withdrawal, and at the same time, removing topical corticosteroids completely as one of the eczema therapeutics may make it harder to treat the eczema/ skin inflammation. It is therefore important to recognize both the dangers of steroid misuse and underuse. Physicians should adopt an open attitude when hearing about patients’ steroid fears as totally ignoring steroid phobia would possibly alienate patients and without trust, it is making controlling eczema an uphill battle.

AAD A:Z Videos with Dr Lawrence F. Eichenfield – How to Treat Diaper Rash

In 2013, I’ve featured American Academy of Dermatology (AAD)’s Dermatology A: Z Videos (here). Since then, AAD has added several other videos which are informative and practical. AAD’s public relations team has once again been most helpful in introducing me to the dermatologists who assisted with my questions, making it possible to bring this special AAD Dermatology A:Z video series to you!

The video covered today is “How to Treat Diaper Rash”. For this video, I interviewed Dr Lawrence F. Eichenfield, M.D., who is the Chief of Pediatric and Adolescent Dermatology of Rady’s Pediatric Eczema Center, and Professor of Pediatrics and Medicine (Dermatology), at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) School of Medicine. Dr. Eichenfield’s clinical interests include atopic dermatitis, and serves on the editorial boards of several journals and periodicals, and is Co-Editor in Chief of Pediatric Dermatology.

In the video, the key points covered are:

  • Always change the soiled diapers, even if it’s just wet
  • Gently cleanse the bump area, such as using moist cloth or alcohol-free and fragrance-free baby wipes
  • Use diaper cream that is zinc oxide based
  • Watch for signs of infection

MarcieMom: Thank you Dr Lawrence for helping parents to learn more about diaper rash this week (and on eczema bleach bath therapy last week). Although diaper rash is common, we still need to learn the proper care for diaper rash and when it is no longer a rash to be self-treated.

Questions answered by Dr Lawrence Eichenfield on How to Treat Diaper Rash

Questions answered by Dr Lawrence Eichenfield on How to Treat Diaper Rash

I understand that diaper rash is a layman’s term and the rash is most likely to be contact dermatitis, caused by close contact of the baby’s skin with the urine/stool that act as skin irritant.

MarcieMom: Is irritant contact dermatitis the most common form of diaper rash? What are other potential irritants apart from urine/stool? For instance, can the diaper itself irritate?

Dr Lawrence: It is true that irritant contact dermatitis is the most common form of diaper rash, with irritation from urine and stools being the most profound irritants. Occasionally children can get inflamed due to other factors, including allergy to diaper contents, though rare, infections such as yeast, which has occurred commonly after courses of oral antibiotics, and many other less common causes of irritation.

MarcieMom: We know that babies have underdeveloped sweat glands and thus occlusion and sweat can lead to heat rash/ miliaria.

MarcieMom: Is it possible that the diaper rash is a heat rash? What are the other possible diagnosis of diaper rash?

Dr Lawrence: It is uncommon for diaper rash to be “heat rash” as the anatomy of the diaper region is different. Aside irritant and occasionally allergic contact dermatitis, there is a broad set of causes of diaper rash which includes yeast infection, psoriasis, and in unusual cases, a broad set of more serious diseases. There are textbook chapters with long list of potential causes of diaper rash, though fortunately, these are uncommon.

MarcieMom: We saw in the video that cleaning the baby’s bum is part of caring for diaper rash. Many parents clean with baby wipes which may end up irritating the baby’s skin if the wipes contain methylchloroisothiazolinone (MI) or methylisothiazolinone. MI was named 2013 “Allergen of the Year” by the American Contact Dermatitis Society.

MarcieMom: What precautions should parents take when cleaning their baby’s bottom to ensure that the cleaning itself will not further irritate the skin? How can parents tell if it’s their cleaning that cause the rash instead of the contact with the soiled diaper?

Dr Lawrence: Parents may be less concerned now, as standard products have dropped MI or MCI from standard wipes. Parents don’t need to be concerned about potential allergy to their cleaning products if diaper rashes respond quickly to standard cleansing and moisturizing regimens, or even interventions with a few days of diaper cream and/or over-the-counter hydrocortisone. If rashes persist with the use of cleansing products and do not respond to standard treatment, then this may be a different story.

MarcieMom: It is recommended in the video to use a zinc-oxide based diaper cream. The diaper cream can act as a barrier that limits the contact of the urine/stools with the baby’s skin. Again, we want to avoid the situation where the cream itself becomes the source of irritant contact dermatitis or even allergic contact dermatitis (where the skin reacts to allergen in the cream).

MarcieMom: What are the ingredients to avoid when selecting a diaper cream? Apart from the obvious ingredients to avoid such as alcohol and fragrance, can ‘good’ ingredients like vitamin E also trigger a rash? Is it better to stick to a ‘basic’ diaper cream that is mainly zinc oxide, instead of a ‘fancy’ one with more ingredients?

Dr Lawrence: Diaper creams that are zinc-oxide based are a tried and true remedy. These produces a barrier layer that protects the skin and also aids in healing of mild irritation or inflammation. Most commercial products have been tested to be safe, with a tendency to be “bland”, meaning a minimal amount of additives being included in the preparations. Parents should be careful with some “organic-based products”, as these sometimes contain contact sensitizers, meaning chemicals that children can become allergic to.

Thank you Dr Lawrence for helping with the questions – we certainly are more informed about to care for our baby’s diaper rash and not aggravate it.

AAD A:Z Videos with Dr Lawrence F. Eichenfield – Eczema Bleach Bath

In 2013, I’ve featured American Academy of Dermatology (AAD)’s Dermatology A: Z Videos (here). Since then, AAD has added several other videos which are informative and practical. AAD’s public relations team has once again been most helpful in introducing me to the dermatologists who assisted with my questions, making it possible to bring this special AAD Dermatology A:Z video series to you!

The video covered today is “Eczema: Bleach Bath Therapy”. For this video, I interviewed Dr Lawrence F. Eichenfield, M.D., who is the Chief of Pediatric and Adolescent Dermatology of Rady’s Pediatric Eczema Center, and Professor of Pediatrics and Medicine (Dermatology), at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) School of Medicine. Dr. Eichenfield’s clinical interests include atopic dermatitis, and serves on the editorial boards of several journals and periodicals, and is Co-Editor in Chief of Pediatric Dermatology.

In the video, the key points covered are:

  • Bleach bath is useful for children whose eczema is frequently infected.
  • Always ask the dermatologist before starting on bleach bath therapy.
  • Preparation of the diluted bleach bath – Half cup of bleach for a full tub of water or 1 teaspoon of bleach per gallon of water
  • Soak 5 to 10 minutes and to check with doctor on the frequency (per week) for the bath
Questions answered by Dr Lawrence Eichenfield on Eczema: Bleach Bath Therapy

Questions answered by Dr Lawrence Eichenfield on Eczema: Bleach Bath Therapy

MarcieMom: Dr Lawrence, thank you for helping out in this AAD video series once again. In our previous interview on Eczema Tips, I asked the question on what infected eczema looks like. Your reply was

Infected eczema can appear as unusual oozing or honey-colored crusting.  It can occasionally show as pus bumps, or as tender, red, warm skin.  Inflammation can also appear red, as well as “rashy” and scaly.  The bleach baths are usually recommended for children who have problems with skin infections, rather than just the inflammation seen with simple eczema flares.

MarcieMom: In another interview with Dr Clay Cockerell, readers of this blog learnt that there are both good and bad bacteria on the skin. The common ones are (1) Staphylococcus epidermidis, (2) Staphylococcus aureus, (3) Streptococcus pyogenes (4) Corynebacteria and (5) Mycobacteria. We also learn that

Bacteria multiply exponentially, so when its population is temporarily decreased, as after the use of hand cleanser, it re-grows quite quickly and returns to its normal concentration.

MarcieMom: We know that the main benefit of bleach bath is to reduce the harmful bacteria, in particular, staphylococcus aureus that often colonizes eczema skin and promotes skin inflammation.

MarcieMom: Will reducing staph bacteria via a bleach bath be only effective for a short time and the harmful bacteria quickly proliferate after the bath? 

Dr Lawrence: Bleach baths appear to decrease the quantity of bacteria on the skin, probably transiently. There have also been some studies to show that hypochlorous solution, the active ingredient in bleach bath, may have anti-inflammatory effect. We don’t really “wipe out” bacteria on the skin with bleach bath, but only tame it down for a period of time. However, they have been shown very useful as part of therapy in eczema that gets frequently infected

MarcieMom: It is mentioned in the video to consult the doctor before starting on bleach bath therapy. What are the factors that a doctor will consider when deciding whether bleach bath is a suitable (or not suitable) treatment for a child with eczema?

Dr Lawrence: When considering bleach bath, doctors will usually consider the overall degree of eczema, the tendency to have secondary infection, which can present as honey-colored crusting, as well as the age of the child. Bleach baths, while very useful, are usually therapy used in addition to regimens of moisturizing and topical anti-inflammatory therapies, as “add-on” for more difficult eczema to manage.

MarcieMom: In the video, we saw that household bleach is used for the bleach bath and we should check that there is no more than 6% sodium hypochlorite in the bleach. I realized that many household products (including bleach) do not label their contents (not mandatory requirement in every country) and that many bleach products have fragrance.

MarcieMom: What is your suggestion on how to get the right bleach product? In the event that parents can’t find a bleach product that is fragrance-free with clear labeling, what is the alternative product?

Dr Lawrence: You are correct to bring up the issue that there is variability in concentrations of bleach bath, as well as bleach not being available in all countries. Also, we have become aware that there are more concentrated forms of bleach being sold to decrease shelf space in grocery stores. Parents need to take a look at the percentage of sodium hydrochlorite, and if there are using a more concentrated version adjust the formula. There are commercial alternatives, including some readily available non-prescription products that have sodium hypochlorite solution as their active ingredient. For instance, CLn body wash, marketed by TopMD that offered this product through their website or Amazon.com. This product has had several studies that have shown benefits in pediatric atopic dermatitis.

MarcieMom: Staph bacteria is the cause of many other skin infections such as cellulitis, impetigo, folliculitis and staphylococcal scalded skin syndrome. Using bleach bath can be preventive, so that there is less likelihood of an infection. It is better than treating an infection using antibiotics that may lead to antibiotic resistance. However, a bleach bath can be drying for the skin since bleach has a pH level of 11 to 13, thus considerably alkaline. Alkaline products can also lead to reduction of ceramide-producing enzymes, decreased skin lipid production and dry skin.

MarcieMom: Is there a way to adjust the skin pH after the bleach bath? For instance, will rinsing off residual bleach bath water be useful or will it decrease the effects of the bleach bath?

Dr Lawrence: When using bleach bath, it is important to handle the skin as with regular baths, with use of emollients/moisturizers after bathing. Some experts will rinse off the residual bleach bath water, while others will leave it on the skin. In studies, it does not appear to make a significant difference, though experts do vary in their suggestions. Certainly application of moisturizers will help, and in any case, the application of moisturizers after bathing will help to improve the skin function, including recovering the pH to normal level.

Thank you Dr Lawrence for helping us to increase our understanding of the bleach bath and clarify questions and reservations we parents have.

AAD A:Z Videos with Dr Daniela Kroshinsky – Cold Sores

In 2013, I’ve featured American Academy of Dermatology (AAD)’s Dermatology A: Z Videos (here). Since then, AAD has added several other videos which are informative and practical. AAD’s public relations team has once again been most helpful in introducing me to the dermatologists who assisted with my questions, making it possible to bring this special AAD Dermatology A:Z video series to you!

The video covered today is “How to Treat Cold Sores”. For this video, I interviewed Dr. Daniela Kroshinsky M.D., MPH, who is an Associate Professor of dermatology at Harvard Medical School in Boston and the director of pediatric dermatology and director of inpatient dermatology, education, and research at Massachusetts General Hospital.

MarcieMom: Thank you Dr Daniela for helping us with treatment of cold sores this week (and last week’s interview on pain management in shingles). For parents with eczema kids, we’re very vigilant about cold sores because of the risk of eczema herpeticum. We are looking forward to learn more about limiting the spread of cold sores at home and how to minimize the likelihood of eczema herpeticum.

Key points in the AAD Video

  • Half of population carry the cold sore herpes simplex virus (HSV)
  • Symptoms of cold sores – Burning, itching or tingling, small blisters on the lips or around the mouth which may merge, burst and crust over
  • Triggers of cold sores – stress, fatigue, flu/fever, sun exposure, hormonal changes, trauma (shaving cuts, cosmetic surgery)
  • Treatment – Apply topical anti-viral cream to slow the reproduction of the virus, cool the sores at home with a cool wet towel
  • Reduce pain by taking aspirin and ibuprofen
  • Avoid acidic fruits, such as tomatoes and citric fruits that can irritate the open skin
  • Anti-viral medication used within 72 hours of rash appearing may shorten the period of cold sores or be used for prevention for those with recurrent cold sores
  • Highly contagious – avoid kissing, sharing towel, cups, shavers, toothbrush or any other object that come into contact with the cold sores
Questions answered by Dr Daniela Kroshinsky on How to Treat Cold Sores

Questions answered by Dr Daniela Kroshinsky on How to Treat Cold Sores

MarcieMom: Dr Daniela, cold sores are quite common but often, the people getting cold sores may not be aware of the severity of spreading to someone, for instance to a young child or to a person with severe eczema.

How contagious is cold sore? For instance, is my child safe as long as she doesn’t share anything with or touch the person with cold sore? Or is it super contagious? (The minute I see someone with cold sore, say in a train, I would leave the cabin. I imagine that he could have touched his cold sores, hold on to the train handle, and if I touch that or somewhere else in the train cabin that has contact with the cold sore, I would get it and possibly pass on to my child with eczema!) Is hand-washing sufficient to get rid of the cold sore virus? (Does anti-microbial product kill the virus or high temperature?)

Dr Daniela: The virus that causes cold sores spreads by direct contact so someone with a cold sore in the same cabin as a person with eczema would not pose a risk.  Spread through shared items depends on if and how much bister or wound fluid could be transmitted. Usually this is very unlikely to take place in public spaces.  In general, it’s a good idea not to touch strange fluids on trains! Handwashing and antimicrobial products would help to minimize this risk.

MarcieMom: I read on Mayo Clinic that the first-time getting the cold sore tend to be more serious that subsequent outbreaks; often, first-time cold sores may be accompanied by:

  • Fever
  • Painful eroded gums
  • Sore throat
  • Headache
  • Muscle aches
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Cold sores inside their mouths (for children under age 5)

Is each cold sore outbreak due to the same virus and therefore, there’s increased immunity with each outbreak? Will cold sores affect young children differently?

Dr Daniela: The first outbreak tends to be more severe with each subsequent outbreak being less involved.  Just like the varicella virus of chickenpox can lie dormant in a nerve root and then cause shingles, the cold sore virus, herpes simplex, can lie dormant and reactivate.  Children are less likely to be affected by cold sores but most people have been exposed to the virus by the time they reach adulthoods.

MarcieMom: For someone with severe eczema, the herpes simplex virus can infect compromised skin causing  eczema herpeticum. Dr Daniela, what are the factors that increase the likelihood of someone with eczema getting eczema herpeticum from cold sores? Is any child with eczema at higher risk or is he/she at higher risk only if the eczema is severe or generalized over the whole body?

Dr Daniela: Close contact with caregivers who are prone to cold sores can increase the risk of transmission of the virus.  Uncontrolled eczema leads to increased risk of open skin that could facilitate the virus spreading to the areas that are affected by eczema.  This can happen with any open area but would be more likely depending on how extensive the eczema is and as a result how much of the skin barrier has been compromised. 

MarcieMom: There are many parents whose eczema kids keep getting repeated episodes of eczema herpeticum. Apart from being on long-term anti-viral medication, are there other measures a child can take to reduce the likelihood of getting recurrent cold sores/eczema herpeticum?

Dr Daniella: Eczema herpeticum is the general term for when eczema is infected by herpes simplex virus, regardless of cause.  The best thing to do to minimize risk is to keep the eczema well-controlled and well-hydrated, minimizing dry or open patches that could allow the virus to enter more readily.

Thank you Dr Daniela for being so patient with these questions on cold sores and bearing with me (a paranoid mom!) and my questions on eczema herpeticum. We have learnt much from you and understand better the preventive measures to take to limit the spread of cold sores.

AAD A:Z Videos with Dr Daniela Kroshinsky – Shingles

In 2013, I’ve featured American Academy of Dermatology (AAD)’s Dermatology A: Z Videos (here). Since then, AAD has added several other videos which are informative and practical. AAD’s public relations team has once again been most helpful in introducing me to the dermatologists who assisted with my questions, making it possible to bring this special AAD Dermatology A:Z video series to you!

The video covered today is “Shingles: Pain Management”. For this video, I interviewed Dr. Daniela Kroshinsky M.D., MPH, who is an Associate Professor of dermatology at Harvard Medical School in Boston and the director of pediatric dermatology and director of inpatient dermatology, education, and research at Massachusetts General Hospital.  

MarcieMom: Dr Daniela, thank you for helping out in this AAD video series. Shingles affects about 1 in 5 people and more common in people over the age of 50. However, it’s possible to get it at any age though, as my daughter with eczema and chickenpox (at age 2) had shingles at the age of 4! We’d like in this interview to learn more about managing the pain and the rash associated with shingles and pointers for an eczema child/patient with shingles.

Key points in the AAD Video

  • Anyone can get shingles if they have the chicken pox virus (varicella zoster), either from having had chicken pox or from chicken pox vaccination
  • Shingles rash – More pain experienced than chickenpox, commonly in one region of the body and usually confined to one side of the body
  • Symptoms of Shingles – Area of skin that burns, tingles, itches or sensitive; begins as red spots that turn to raised areas and blisters in the same area. This is followed by crusting.
  • 2 to 3 weeks for the blisters to heal with reducing pain
  • If pain, itch, numbness or tingling develops, it can last months to years
  • Anti-viral medication used within 72 hours of rash appearing may shorten the course of the rash and lessen the pain. After 72 hours, anti-viral medication can still lessen the pain.
  • At home – Cool the rash, apply calamine lotion, do not peel, pick at or pop the blisters, cover the rash with loose, sterile bandage and wear loose-fitting, cotton clothing
  • Shingles is contagious – can spread in the form of chicken pox to someone who has not had chicken pox or to the fetus of a pregnant person.
Questions answered by Dr Daniela Kroshinsky on Shingles : Pain Management

Questions answered by Dr Daniela Kroshinsky on Shingles : Pain Management

MarcieMom: Shingles is caused by reactivation of an infection that is dormant in a nerve and the area of skin supplied by the nerve. Dr Daniela, can you explain which nerves get infected most often and is that why most people get the shingles rash on their torso? In the video, it is mentioned that some people get it on their face – does a person’s age and immune system affect which nerves will get infected? Once infected, can it spread from one part to another of the body?

Dr Daniela: In general, shingles will arise in the area of the body that had the greatest concentration of blisters at the time of the chicken pox but it varies widely.  Most chickenpox blisters arise on the torso.  Once someone is infected, they can spread the lesions to other parts of theirs skin through contact with the blister fluid which contains active virus.  In addition, people who have compromised immune systems may experience widening of the affected area beyond the initial skin patch fed by the nerve. This is called “disseminated zoster” and requires urgent attention and treatment.

Reducing Pain in Shingles

MarcieMom: We learnt in the video that anti-viral medication can help to reduce pain and pain relief measures at home can help. Why do certain people feel more pain than others? (Age, immune system, or existing medication they are on?) Are there any measures one can take to reduce the likelihood of prolonged pain, ie months after the rash has healed (Postherpetic neuralgia or PHN)?

Dr Daniela: There are many factors that can influence people’s perception of pain, many that we are still starting to understand.  Starting antiviral medication as soon as possible is the most helpful tool to help minimize the risk of pain.  If PHN develops, seeking medical attention as soon as possible, including with a pain specialist if needed, can help to better manage these symptoms.

Lowering Likelihood of Shingles’ Complications

Apart from postherpetic neuralgia, there are other complications such as

  1. Skin infection, from bacteria/germs
  2. Shingles at the eye can cause eye inflammation
  3. Muscle weakness (palsy) due to shingles infection of the motor nerve

MarcieMom: Of particular interest is skin infection. What are the factors that will increase the chance of skin infection and what measures should one take to reduce the chances of skin infection?

Is someone with eczema skin that is already colonized with staphylococcus aureus bacteria more likely to suffer from skin infection? If yes, is it advisable to clean the shingles rash with chlorhexidine?

Dr Daniela: Picking or touching the lesions can introduce bacteria that could create bacterial infection of the shingles. Keeping the lesions clean and covered helps to minimize this.  With eczema in general, keeping eczema controlled and minimizing wounds helps to prevent secondary infection.  It is not necessary to clean shingles with a medicated soap.  Chlorhexidine can be irritating and can dry out skin, further exacerbating eczema and as such I would not recommend it be used for shingles.  Keeping the lesions covered and clean with gentle care is usually sufficient.

Managing Shingles for those with Active Eczema

For some eczema children and adults, they may be on various courses of corticosteroids or immunosuppressant, such as prednisolone, mycophenolate mofetil and cyclosporine. Will taking such medication increases the risk of getting shingles? 

Is it possible that shingle rash will appear over a patch of skin with eczema flare-up? If so, what topical medication should be applied? (still ok to apply topical corticosteroid over the eczema if shingles appear on the same patch?)

Dr Daniela: Immune-lowering medications can make it more likely that someone will have their shingles spread more widely so it is important to watch shingles as it develops to assess whether the eruption is spreading more widely, warranting more aggressive treatment. Once antiviral treatment has been started, topical steroids can be used cautiously to the eczema around the shingles lesions but it is important not to rub the viral lesions as it is possible to spread the viral particles and extend the infection.  Anti-itch medications like antihistamines can be very helpful to control the symptoms of itch that can accompany eczema.

Thank you Dr Daniela for helping us to understand how to manage shingles and offering clarity for those suffering with eczema who also get shingles.

AAD A:Z Videos with Dr Thomas Rohrer – How to Treat Sunburn

In 2013, I’ve featured American Academy of Dermatology (AAD)’s Dermatology A: Z Videos (here). Since then, AAD has added several other videos which are informative and practical. AAD’s public relations team has once again been most helpful in introducing me to the dermatologists who assisted with my questions, making it possible to bring this special AAD Dermatology A:Z video series to you!

The video covered today is “How to Treat Sunburn”. For this video, I interviewed Dr. Thomas E. Rohrer, M.D., who is a dermatologic surgeon at SkinCare Physicians, and previously served as the Chief of Dermatologic Surgery at Boston University Medical Center and Boston Veterans Administration Hospital for eight years and as the Director of the Boston University Center for Cosmetic and Laser Surgery. Dr Rohrer is passionate about education and is the editor of six cosmetic and laser surgery textbooks and guest editor of numerous journals.

MarcieMom: Thank you Dr Rohrer for helping us with how to shave last week. This week, we are learning about how to treat sunburn and at the same time, learn about how sunburn affects eczema skin.

In the video, the key points on the treatment of sunburn were covered: (note: AAD has amended the video on Treatment of Sunburn but the contents in this blog post was still based on the previous video which is no longer available on Youtube. The video above features AAD’s updated video)

  1. Get out of the sun
  2. Take cool baths
  3. Pat dry, moisturize while there’s still a layer of water on the skin
  4. Choose creams with aloe vera
  5. Apply hydrocortisone cream to reduce inflammation but do not treat with benzocaine
  6. Take aspirin and ibuprofen
  7. Drink extra water as the sunburn draws water from the skin and rest of the body
  8. If there’re blisters from the sunburn, do not pop them but let them heal
  9. Watch for signs of infection

The way to shower and moisturize looks the same for both sunburned skin and eczema skin – not hot bath, not rubbing dry (but pat dry), trapping more moisture on the skin after shower and moisturizing right after.

In a previous interview with Dr Robin Schaffran, we learnt that ultraviolet light rays penetrate through the epidermis and dermis layers of the skin and damage the DNA in skin cells, collagen and elastin in the dermis.

How to treat sunburn AAD Video with Dr Thomas Rohrer

How to treat sunburn AAD Video with Dr Thomas Rohrer

MarcieMom: Dr Rohrer, what is it about the sunburned skin that makes it important to maximize the retention of skin moisture? What are the factors that affect the recovery of sunburned skin? (for instance, do certain conditions like eczema and psoriasis take longer to recover? Or whether skincare measures are taken after the sunburn?)

Dr Thomas: It is a good idea to try to maximize retention of skin moisture in everyone’s skin.  When the skin is burnt it becomes even more important as there is increased loss of water through the damaged skin. Similarly, with eczema or other conditions that result in dry scaling skin, the increased permeability of the skin makes it more important to keep the skin well moisturized. Keeping the skin moisturized will allow it to function more normally and recover more quickly.

In the video, it seemed that hydrocortisone is applied liberally on the sunburned skin to reduce inflammation. A few questions to provide some guidelines to patients who have access to mild hydrocortisone cream and want to self-treat at home.

Potency – What % of hydrocortisone should the lotion/cream be?

Frequency – How frequent (in a day) can it be applied onto sunburned skin?

Duration – What would be the duration and is there a decreasing frequency of application during this period?

Amount – How much of hydrocortisone can be applied? What is the sunburned skin covers a large skin area?

Dr Rohrer: Hydrocortisone can help reduce inflammation. On the face, no more than the over the counter 1% hydrocortisone should be used.  On other parts of the body a slightly stronger 2.5% formulation may be used.  It is best not to use either more than twice a day and only for a short period of time.  Most of the time only a couple of days are necessary before the burn feels much better.    

MarcieMom: Benzocaine is mentioned not to be used. However, I read on Mayoclinic that benzocaine is used for sunburn and on Pubmed that benzocaine is effective for treating the pain (but not the itch) on sunburned skin. What are the reasons why benzocaine should not be used for sunburn treatment?

Dr Rohrer: While benzocaine preparations do help reduce pain, many people are or become sensitive to it.  We frequently see allergic skin reactions to benzocaine and therefore do not recommend it for use with the majority of patients. 

MarcieMom: Lastly for those with eczema, sun exposure is not recommended during eczema flare-ups.

How does sun exposure affect eczema skin?

Dr Rohrer: Sun exposure and sunburn are not recommended for anyone.  While some people do find that mild sun exposure improves their eczema, it is not recommended as it adds to the cumulative radiation effect of the sun and can lead to skin cancers. 

Thank you Dr Thomas for helping us with treatment of sunburn and clarifying questions we have on self-treating at home. Sun protection is important (see AAD Video on How to Apply Sunscreen with Dr Sonia Badreshia-Bansal MD on this blog).

AAD A:Z Videos with Dr Thomas Rohrer – How to Shave

In 2013, I’ve featured American Academy of Dermatology (AAD)’s Dermatology A: Z Videos (here). Since then, AAD has added several other videos which are informative and practical. AAD’s public relations team has once again been most helpful in introducing me to the dermatologists who assisted with my questions, making it possible to bring this special AAD Dermatology A:Z video series to you!

The video covered today is “How to Shave”. For this video, I interviewed Dr. Thomas E. Rohrer, M.D., who is a dermatologic surgeon at SkinCare Physicians, and previously served as the Chief of Dermatologic Surgery at Boston University Medical Center and Boston Veterans Administration Hospital for eight years and as the Director of the Boston University Center for Cosmetic and Laser Surgery. Dr Rohrer is passionate about education and is the editor of six cosmetic and laser surgery textbooks and guest editor of numerous journals.

MarcieMom: Dr Rohrer, thank you for helping out in this AAD video series. Shaving is something most men and women have to do regularly and it is not as simple as it looks – complications can arise from shaving and shaving can be complicated for those with existing skin conditions. We’d first cover how to shave safely and what those with eczema have to pay attention to when shaving.

Proper Way to Shave

https://youtu.be/OtDshtE_100

In the video, the key steps in shaving are covered:

  1. Wet your skin and hair before shaving
  2. Apply shaving cream or gel
  3. Shave in the direction of hair growth
  4. Change blades after 5 to 7 shaves to minimize skin irritation
  5. Use shaver with sharp blades
  6. Not to try to shave off acne

I read that wetting the facial hair will allow it to absorb the moisture and a swollen hair is softer and easier to cut. It appears that warm water is best, either a few minutes from a moistened towel or after shower. I also come across that showering will open up the hair follicle and makes it easier to shave. The idea is that the easier it is to shave, the more likely a one-time pass is sufficient and thus, less likely to irritate the skin. Conversely, showering too long will cause the skin to wrinkle and harder to shave.

Questions answered by dermatologist Dr Thomas Rohrer on Shaving

Questions answered by dermatologist Dr Thomas Rohrer on Shaving, including that for eczema and sensitive skin

MarcieMom: Dr Rohrer, it seems to get quite ‘technical’ if one starts thinking about temperature and timing of wetting skin and hair before shaving. Can you explain

What happens to the skin, hair and hair follicles when they are wet

Why wet skin, hair and follicle makes shaving easier

Whether there is an optimal wetness and how important it is to get this right

Dr Rohrer: You are correct; when hair is wet, it absorbs a little water and becomes softer. This allows the razor to cut the hair more easily.  In general, things expand when they are warmed.  So using warm water will expand the hair, skin, and pores more than cold water. This allows more water to be absorbed into the skin and hair and makes the hair softer than if cold water was used. In addition, water in and of itself is a slight lubricant so it helps the razor glide over skin better than dry skin. It is difficult to wet the skin on the face, underarms, or legs too much.  These areas do not tend to get bloated like the fingers may after long water exposure.    

MarcieMom: Likewise for the application of shaving cream or gel, there appears to be ‘good practices’ such as leaving the shaving cream on the skin for 3 minutes, brushing the cream into the hair with a shaving brush to lift the hairs and to ensure that the hairs get coated with the cream.

Is a shaving cream necessary for all parts of the body or only facial hair for men? If lubricating is the main purpose of shaving cream, will showering with bath oil achieve the same purpose? Is there an issue of too much shaving cream?

Dr Rohrer: I don’t think one can use too much shaving cream.  The point of a shaving cream is to soften the skin and hair and act as a lubricant and barrier between the razor and the skin. If someone does not experience discomfort when using bath oils in the shower then that would be fine to use.  If they do have some irritation then they could add a shaving cream or gel.

Shaving for those with Sensitive Skin

Throughout the shaving process, there are quite a few steps that may lead to irritation for those with sensitive skin. For instance,

Shaving cream – using a shaving cream that contain irritants (for instance, fragrance and Triethanolamine) or having surfactants that are common allergens

Act of shaving – irritation from friction, damage to epidermis, or repeated shaving?

MarcieMom: Dr Rohrer, what should someone with sensitive skin take note of when shaving?

Dr Rohrer: Shaving foams out of a store bought can contain a great deal of alcohol and can dry the skin out.  If someone has sensitive skin it makes sense to use a shaving gel, cream, or soap. These products contain more glycerin than alcohol and do not dry the skin out.  It is also important to moisturize the skin right after shaving.  Men should use a moisturizer that contains sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or 30 in it.  This will give a good base coat on the face every morning.      

Shaving for those with Dry Skin and Eczema

One issue with dry shaving is that the razor may get clogged up with dead skin cells. A clogged razor doesn’t give a close shave and there is a risk of nicks. For those with dry skin or eczema, there may be more dead skin cells. Also shaving can cause micro-tears in the skin and eczema patients may get the micro-tears more easily or more prone to infection at the micro-tears.

MarcieMom: Dr Rohrer, should shaving over skin that has active eczema flare-up be avoided? What should an eczema sufferer take note of during shaving?

Dr Rohrer: If someone has eczema or any other skin condition, it should be treated and controlled medically.  There are great treatments for these diseases that can get them under control. The AAD is a wonderful resource for people to use to get more information about their particular condition. If there is a flare-up, then caution should be used when shaving over these areas. An electric razor is less likely to cut skin than a typical blade razor.  These devices can be used in areas that have been compromised by a dermatologic condition.  Moisturizing after shaving will also help.

Thank you Dr Thomas for helping us to understand shaving and how preparation is important. For those of us with eczema or sensitive skin, it is also most helpful to understand how shaving affects our skin.

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