In recent decades, atopic dermatitis has increased four-fold in developed countries1. The development of atopic dermatitis is a result of multiple different factors, including genetic and environmental, with environmental risks including psychological factors2. Whilst genetics cannot be controlled, the environmental risks can be mitigated when a woman is pregnant. In this article, some of the environmental risks that have been shown to contribute to the development of atopic dermatitis are explained.
The first of these environmental risks is stress. Research has shown that mothers who are stressed during pregnancy have an increased likelihood of having a child that suffers with atopic disorders including, atopic dermatitis, asthma and rhinoconjunctivitis. Multiple studies have shown that if a woman is stressed during her pregnancy, the in-utero environment affects the infant’s immune development independently of genetic risk. This means that in some instances, during pregnancy, a child’s developing immune system may be altered which could increase the risk of atopic dermatitis, even if there is no genetic predisposition to the condition3. Therefore, it is very important for a pregnant mother to reduce their stress where possible. Relaxation techniques and breathing exercises have been shown to reduce stress. Why not listen to our mindfulness audio under ‘Mental Health with AD’ to take a few minutes to focus on your breathing.
Alcohol consumption has been shown to increase the risk of a child developing a wide range of health conditions, including atopic dermatitis. To assess the effect of alcohol, 411 children were followed for a total of 7 years. These children were born to mothers with a history of asthma, a condition, like atopic dermatitis that can be caused by type 2 inflammation (a type of inflammation caused by an over-active immune system). This study showed that there was a link between mothers that drunk alcohol during their pregnancy and children that developed atopic dermatitis1. A second study looked at children who were born to two parents who suffered from allergic disease. Having two parents with an allergic disease meant their child would be considered ‘high-risk’ for developing atopic dermatitis. This study found that mothers that drank during their pregnancy, increased the risk of their child developing atopic dermatitis in early infancy4. Therefore, it is advised to stop drinking alcohol throughout your pregnancy.
Similarly, to alcohol, smoking during pregnancy is associated with a large number of risks to the health of an infant, including the development of atopic dermatitis. One study conducted found that children who were born to mothers who smoked during their pregnancy had a 1.98 times higher risk of developing dermatitis than those who were born to non-smoking mothers. The risk of developing atopic dermatitis was also higher for those children that were exposed to a smoker household5. As a result of this, pregnant women should withhold from smoking throughout their pregnancy and where possible, ensure they are not surrounded by second-hand smoke from others.
Whilst the development of atopic dermatitis is most often a complex case of both genetic and environmental risks, this development may be reduced by ensuring that the pregnant mother refrains from alcohol, smoking and is able to reduce their stress levels. For more information or general advice during your pregnancy, speak to your healthcare professional as they are the best source of information.