Eczema is an inflammation of the skin. It can create dry itchy and scaly skin that can crust and crack. When the skin breaks, there is an increased risk of infection. The exact cause is not known, but allergens such as wool, soap, dust mites and certain foods can make the condition worse. Eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis, may be treated with skin care, medications, and special light therapy. Some research has indicated that probiotic therapy may also have some benefit. Probiotics are “good” bacteria necessary for the proper and balanced functioning of the digestive tract, which theoretically may influence allergic conditions like eczema.
Researchers from the Department of Pediatrics at Wright State University conducted a review of past studies to assess the benefit of probiotics for children with eczema. The study published in Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology found that probiotics may benefit children with moderately severe eczema.
The systematic review combined the results of 10 previous randomized trials investigating the use of probiotics to treat eczema in children. The trials enrolled a total of 678 children with atopic dermatitis. Their ages ranged from 1 month to 13 years. The severity of the eczema was rated using the Scoring of Atopic Dermatitis Severity Index (SCORAD) scale.
Overall, treatment with probiotics was associated with a lower SCORAD score (improvement in eczema symptoms) compared to a placebo. However, only those children with moderately severe eczema, as opposed to mild eczema, seemed to benefit.
It is important to keep eczema under control, not only for the child’s comfort but to also avoid infections from broken skin. There have been conflicting reports of the benefits of probiotics for the treatment of eczema. A systematic review helps to improve the reliability of study results by combining several smaller studies. This type of review may create a clearer picture of a controversial treatment.
Avoiding known allergens and instituting proper skin care are the cornerstones of eczema management. In addition, it appears that probiotics may offer some relief to children whose eczema is moderately severe. However, it is unlikely that probiotics will resolve the problem on their own. If your child is currently taking medications to treat his or her eczema, it may be worthwhile to discuss with your child’s doctor the benefits of adding a probiotic.
American Academy of Family Physicians
American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology
Michail SK, Stolfi A, Johnson T, Onady GM. Efficacy of probiotics in the treatment of pediatric atopic dermatitis: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials.Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol. 2008 Nov;101(5):508-16.
Last reviewed April 2009 by Richard Glickman-Simon, MD