Many parents across the world are all too familiar with how eczema and asthma are two very closely linked conditions. In theory it makes sense, as they are both allergic reactions much like hay fever or hives, yet in a lot of cases one appears months or even years before the other.
Recent developments made by scientists who are studying the link between asthma and eczema have found some interesting evidence. Researchers at Dundee University in Scotland, UK for example discovered in 2006 that people with asthma and/or eczema are actually carrying a mutated gene. This individual gene is the one which codes for protecting the skin with a protein called filaggrin. As a result this lack of filaggrin allows allergens to pass through the skin and cause an allergic reaction, where they otherwise would be blocked, either on the surface of the skin (eczema) or within the lungs and air passage (asthma).
For sufferers of eczema and asthma this discovery is profound. All scientists need to do to prevent each condition from occuring, or cure them completely is to be able to replicate the gene that produces filaggrin and have it expressed in the patient. However, studies and developments on genes and DNA is complex and time consuming. It could be years before this discovery is taken to the next level.
In May 2009 researchers then made a second discovery about the actual link between the two disorders and why one can appear before the other. It has been proven that skin damaged by eczema sends a message to the brain saying ‘your protective system is ineffective, find an alternative’. In turn the brain tells the skin to secrete a molecular substance called thymic stromal lymphopoietin (abbreviated to TSLP) which causes an enhanced immune reaction to anything that could be a threat (I.e. allergens). TSLP is able to pass through the skin and into the blood stream very easily, and while it will get to all parts of the body, it is the lungs which are most susceptible to its effects. As a result, tissue in the lungs performs an enhanced immune response and the symptoms of asthma occur.
So while sufferers wait patiently for researchers to replicate the gene that codes for filaggrin production, they could be in for a promising substitute. While neither condition can be cured, if scientists can work out how to prevent skin production of the TSLP molecule, then those with eczema could have a far lower chance of developing asthma too. It may not be the breakthrough cure that doting parents of allergic children are looking for, but it’s certainly a development that provides hope and relief from at least one distressing illness.