MADRID – European atopic dermatitis experts have issued formal guidance on a seriously neglected topic: treatment of the disease during pregnancy, breastfeeding, and in men planning to father children.
The impetus for the project was clear: “,” , declared at a meeting of the European Task Force on Atopic Dermatitis held in conjunction with the annual congress of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology.
He presented highlights of the task force’s position paper on the topic, for which he served as first author. The group’s recommendations are based on expert opinion, since randomized clinical trial literature in this area is nonexistent because of ethical concerns. But the task force, comprising a who’s who in European dermatology, drew on a wealth of collective clinical experience in this area.
“We have all of Europe involved in doing this position statement. It’s meant as what we think is proper treatment and what we can say about the different drugs,” explained Dr. Vestergaard, a dermatologist at the University of Aarhus (Denmark).
Most nonobstetricians are intimidated by atopic dermatitis (AD) in pregnancy, and are concerned about the potential for treatment-related harm to the fetus. As a consequence, they are reluctant to recommend anything beyond weak class I topical corticosteroids and emollients. That’s clearly insufficient in light of the vast scope of need, he asserted. After all, AD affects 15%-20% of all children and persists or reappears in adulthood in one out of five of them. Half of those adults are women, many of whom will at some point wish to become pregnant. And many men with AD will eventually want to father children.
A key message from the task force is that untreated AD in pregnancy potentially places the mother and fetus at risk of serious complications, including Staphylococcus aureus infection and eczema herpeticum.
“If you take one thing away from our position paper, it’s that you can use class II or III topical corticosteroids in pregnant women as first-line therapy,” Dr. Vestergaard said.
This stance contradicts a longstanding widely held concern that topical steroids in pregnancy might increase the risk of facial cleft in the offspring, a worry that has been convincingly debunked in a Cochrane systematic review of 14 studies including more than 1.6 million pregnancies. The report concluded there was no association between topical corticosteroids of any potency with preterm delivery, birth defects, or low Apgar scores ().
The task force recommends that if class II or III topical corticosteroid use in pregnancy exceeds 200 g/month, it’s worth considering add-on UV therapy, with narrow band UVB-311 nm as the regimen of choice; it can be used liberally. UV therapy with psoralens is not advised because of a theoretical risk of mutagenicity.
Product labeling for the topical calcineurin inhibitors declares that the agents should not be used during pregnancy. However, the European task force position paper takes issue with that and declares that topical tacrolimus () can be considered an off-label first-line therapy in pregnant women with an insufficient response to liberal use of emollients. The same holds true for breastfeeding patients with AD. Just as when topical corticosteroids are used in the nipple area, topical tacrolimus should be applied after nursing, and the nipple area should be gently cleaned before nursing.
The rationale behind recommending topical tacrolimus as a first-line treatment is that systemic absorption of the drug is trivial. Plus, observational studies of oral tacrolimus in pregnant women who have received a solid organ transplant have shown no increase in congenital malformations.
The task force recommends against the use of topical pimecrolimus () or crisaborole ( ) in pregnancy or lactation due to lack of clinical experience in these settings, Dr. Vestergaard continued.
The task force position is that chlorhexidine and other topical antiseptics – with the notable exception of triclosan – can be used in pregnancy to prevent recurrent skin infections. Aminoglycosides should be avoided, but topical fusidic acid is a reasonable antibiotic for treatment of small areas of clinically infected atopic dermatitis in pregnancy.