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Experts say the itching and scratching caused by eczema may disrupt sleep and concentration. Halfpoint/Getty Images
  • Researchers say children with eczema are more likely to develop learning disabilities.
  • They said they’re not sure what the correlation is, but it could be that the itching and scratching from the condition disrupt sleep as well as concentration.
  • One expert said medications given to children with learning disabilities may also be a factor.

When two of Christopher Adams’ children developed eczema around 7 or 8 years old, he and his wife saw more changes in their kids than just the obvious skin trouble.

“We have seen a decline in both of their concentration and focusing abilities in school and at home, and we are fairly confident it is directly correlated to the skin conditions,” Adams, the founder of aquarium website, told Healthline.

After several appointments with doctors, tests on both boys — now 12 and 14 — weren’t conclusive for any of the usual learning disorders, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

But something was causing a learning disruption for them that their other son — who didn’t have eczema — didn’t experience.

“Our psychologists agreed that the onset of learning disability has some correlation to them being focused on their bodies at times of breakouts, instead of what they should be concentrating on,” Adams said.

Researchers behind a new study on eczema would likely agree.

They report that children with eczema are up to three times as likely to have a learning disability than those without the condition.

Eczema (atopic dermatitis, also called AD) is a chronic condition that makes the skin itchy and could appear red, purple, or gray, depending on your skin tone. It’s common in children but can occur at any age. It flares periodically and is more common in people who also have asthma and hay fever.

There’s no cure, but treatment and self-care can relieve itching and prevent new outbreaks.

More than 30 million people in the United States have some form of eczema.

The study analyzed data on more than 2,000 children with eczema over a period of 10 years.

The researchers said the reasons for the connection aren’t clear, but it’s possible the chronic itch contributes to poor sleep and distraction affecting the ability to learn.

Dr. Joy Wan, a study co-author and a dermatologist at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, told UPI it’s also possible “inflammatory pathways” may affect learning.

Slightly more than 8 percent of study participants reported a diagnosed learning disability, making them more than twice as likely to have learning trouble than children without eczema.

About 9 percent of those with a learning disability had severe eczema, compared to less than 5 percent without the condition.

Examples of learning disabilities connected to eczema include dyslexia and nonverbal learning disabilities, causing children trouble in interpreting nonverbal clues.

“This is interesting for many reasons,” Dr. Puja Uppal, a family practitioner in Michigan, told Healthline. “Both are genetic conditions, so perhaps we’re seeing symptoms of ADHD, such as sleep disturbances, and relating them to AD. The study shows children, regardless of their skin severity, report some symptoms of a learning disability.

“A growing discipline in medicine is neuro-dermatology. So, I’m sure we’ll see good data in the future with respect to seeing if there are any neural pathway involvement,” Uppal added. “One condition may make the symptoms of the other worse, or we just start seeing symptoms at the same time. But I don’t suspect there isn’t a causal relationship.”

Dr. David Beatty, a general practitioner in Essex, England, told Healthline the correlation could go both ways.

“Children with learning disabilities may be less likely to understand they shouldn’t scratch,” Beatty said. “Someone with learning disabilities is more likely to be on other psychopharmacologic medication. Many drugs can cause skin reactions. Stress is a known trigger for eczema… I think it’s reasonable to assume those with learning disabilities are more likely to be under stress.”

Jennifer Horspool told Healthline she was diagnosed with eczema 20 years ago. She said many of her outbreaks were food-related, which “caused brain fog and lethargy.”

“Certainly, people with eczema rashes are scratching in their sleep,” said Horspool, a marketing executive in Yorba Linda, California.

“Years ago, an allergy physician I went to shared with me about a sleep study he conducted in medical school, where people with eczema scratched all night and were restless, without ever knowing it,” she added. “Waking up bleeding with a bigger rash from the scratching is a normal thing.”