Eczema and Mental Health: What’s the Link

  • Atopic dermatitis (eczema), an inflammatory skin condition, can be linked to other forms of inflammation in the body that can affect your mental health.
  • While eczema can sometimes trigger psychological symptoms, stress and anxiety can trigger your eczema rashes too.
  • Treatment options are available to help with both atopic dermatitis and mental illness.
  • Therapy and a healthy lifestyle can help treat both diseases.

Atopic dermatitis (AD) is a chronic inflammatory skin disease caused by an overactive immune system. It is also known as atopic eczema or eczema for short.

AD can be linked to other inflammatory symptoms in your body. These symptoms can lead to mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety. The good news is that both conditions can be treated with a combination of treatments and lifestyle changes.

Read on to learn more about the link between eczema and your mental health, and what you can do to treat each of them.

Research currently shows a strong link between AD and mental illness. There are several possible causes for this.

First, the same inflammation that causes AD can potentially cause other inflammations in the body. Inflammation can affect your brain, noisy 2019 research – and this can potentially lead to changes that lead to depression and anxiety.

Additionally, stress and anxiety are two common triggers of eczema, according to them National Eczema Association (NEA).

Stress increases the production of the hormone cortisol, which can increase inflammation in your skin. Then when you have a severe flare-up you may feel more stressed and anxious. These feelings can affect your mental health.

Severe eczema can also make you feel embarrassed, and it is not uncommon for you to want to withdraw socially because of it. This can be difficult for your general psychological wellbeing.

The itching and general discomfort of an AD flare-up can also make it difficult to fall asleep at night. Long-term sleep deprivation can increase your risk of mood disorders such as depression and anxiety 2018 research.

Depression and anxiety are the most common mental illnesses in people with eczema.

A 2017 survey by the NEA found that 30 percent of people are affected. In addition, it has also been found that people with eczema contribute to depression four times as high of the general population.

A Study published in 2020 confirmed an increased risk of depression and anxiety in adults with AD with rates of 14 percent and 17 percent, respectively.

An analysis from 2018 also found a significantly higher risk of suicidal thoughts and acts in people with AD than in the general population.

This analysis included 15 studies that included 310,681 people with atopic dermatitis and found that 44 percent of people with the condition were more likely to have thoughts of suicide and 36 percent were more likely to attempt suicide than people without AD.

Contact a doctor right away if you have thoughts of harming or killing yourself.

If you or a loved one is experiencing a mental health crisis, call 800-273-8255 or dial 911.

Treating your eczema can help reduce your risk of developing psychological complications. If you feel that your current treatment is not working, see your doctor for a follow-up exam to discuss alternative options.

You should also speak to your doctor if what you are experiencing is affecting your mental health. As a rule of thumb, experts recommend getting help if you have mental symptoms that last 2 or more weeks.

These can include one or more of the following:

  • daily anxiety or extreme irritability
  • persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness
  • extreme mood swings, with alternating “highs” and “lows”
  • Loss of interest in the activities you normally enjoy
  • struggles with everyday activities, including work
  • excessive fatigue or nocturnal insomnia (or both)
  • Restlessness
  • excessive worry or fear
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Changes in appetite
  • Changes in body weight
  • unexplained body aches and pains
  • decreased libido
  • Avoid your friends or usual social activities
  • Drug or alcohol abuse
  • Suicidal thoughts

If you have any of the above symptoms, talk to your doctor. Depending on their results, they may refer you to a therapist or other psychiatrist for support.

Aside from using doctor recommended or prescribed moisturizers and topical steroids for severe AD, you may need to take oral medications to manage mental health symptoms.

These can include:

  • Antidepressants, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) or norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs)
  • anti-anxiety drugs such as benzodiazepines
  • Mood stabilizers, including lithium
  • Antipsychotics such as neuroleptics

If you have persistent depression and anxiety, a visit to a therapist can also be helpful. Psychotherapy (also known as talk therapy) can be especially useful to help you redefine certain thoughts or behaviors.

You should also monitor your eczema and mental health while you are on other medications. Report any changes to your doctor.

A combination of medication and therapy can go a long way in treating mental illness.

Plus, there are other ways you can support your mental health – and possibly reduce AD ​​triggers as well. These can include:

  • always get enough sleep
  • Meditate or do deep breathing exercises
  • If sweat is one of your eczema triggers, exercise daily and then take a cool shower afterwards
  • following an anti-inflammatory eating plan, such as the Mediterranean diet, which focuses on whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and healthy fats
  • stay socially active and spend time with loved ones

Research has shown a strong link between moderate to severe eczema and mental illness, with depression and anxiety being the most common. Some people with eczema may also be at increased risk of suicidal thoughts and acts.

It is important to keep in touch with your doctor about both your eczema and your mental health. If you are anxious or depressed for more than 2 weeks, talk to your doctor about how you are feeling.

A doctor can tell you about the treatment options available. Seek help immediately if you think of this or try to harm yourself.

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