Conference Coverage

Climbing the therapeutic ladder in eczema-related itch


– Currently available options for treating itch in patients with atopic dermatitis continue to be somewhat limited, but range from several topical agents to oral medications, including antihistamines and an oral antiemetic approved for preventing chemotherapy-related nausea and vomiting, Peter Lio, MD, said at a symposium presented by the Coalition United for Better Eczema Care (CUBE-C).

There are four basic areas of treatment, which Dr. Lio, a dermatologist at Northwestern University, Chicago, referred to as the “itch therapeutic ladder.” In a video interview at the meeting, he reviewed the treatments, starting with topical therapies, which include camphor and menthol, strontium-containing topicals, as well as “dilute bleach-type products” that seem to have some anti-inflammatory and anti-itch effects.

The next levels: oral medications – antihistamines, followed by “more intense” options that may carry more risks, such as the antidepressant mirtazapine, and aprepitant, a neurokinin-1 receptor antagonist approved for the prevention of chemotherapy-induced and postoperative nausea and vomiting. Gabapentin and naltrexone can also be helpful for certain populations; all are used off-label, he pointed out.

Dr. Lio, formally trained in acupuncture, often uses alternative therapies as the fourth rung of the ladder. These include using a specific acupressure point, which he said “seems to give a little bit of relief.”

In the interview, he also discussed considerations in children with atopic dermatitis and exciting treatments in development, such as biologics that target “one of the master itch cytokines,” interleukin-31.

“Itch is such an important part of this disease because we know not only is it one of the key pieces that pushes the disease forward and keeps these cycles going, but also contributes a huge amount to the morbidity,” he said.

CUBE-C, established by the National Eczema Association (NEA), is a “network of cross-specialty leaders, patients and caregivers, constructing an educational curriculum based on standards of effective treatment and disease management,” according to the NEA.

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