Skin allergies are a growing problem for children in the UK, but why are they becoming more common?
How Common Are Skin Allergies in Children?
Allergies are very common, but it can be difficult to know exactly how many people are affected. We don’t always go to see a dermatologist in London for a mild problem like a rash that disappears quickly, so we can only estimate the true number of people with allergies from those who do use children’s dermatology services such as those provided by the HSDC.
The World Allergy Organisation estimates that as many as 40% of us could be affected by some kind of allergy, ranging from mild hay fever to potentially life-threatening food allergies. The UK has particularly high rates as more than 1 in 5 of us have been diagnosed with some kind of allergy. The number of people being diagnosed with allergies at HSDC and other clinics continues to increase and the rise has been particularly rapid among children. The proportion of children being diagnosed with eczema has trebled over the last 30 years. This means that growing numbers of young people are now visiting dermatologists in London with allergic skin conditions that can have a big impact on their lives.
- 8 million people in the UK have been diagnosed with skin allergies. Some are mild, but others could be fatal if they aren’t managed correctly.
- 15-30% of children have atopic eczema, which is often triggered by common allergens such as dust mites. The condition is less common in adults as many children will grow out of it as their immune systems develop.
- Many children with skin allergies also have other types of allergies. Approximately 40% of children who have eczema also have a food allergy.
What is Causing the Rise in Skin Allergies?
The number of children being diagnosed with skin allergies and eczema by dermatologists in London and elsewhere has increased significantly over the last few decades and it is continuing to rise. Part of the rise may be due to an increase in diagnoses rather than a growth in the number of children who are affected. Parents may be more likely to visit the doctor about skin conditions and children’s dermatology services may have improved.
However, given the huge rise in the number of cases a change in how often skin allergies are diagnosed may not be enough to explain it completely. The number of cases continues to rise, even when we only consider recent years when parents’ attitudes and access to children’s dermatology services are unlikely to have changed. One study found that the incidence of atopic dermatitis had increased significantly in children in Norway between 2009 and 2015.
Identifying the cause of the increase in skin allergies in children isn’t easy. We still don’t fully understand why people develop allergies to specific triggers or why some children are affected by eczema. However, various theories have been suggested that may help to explain the rise in skin allergies:
- Increasing hygiene in the home could affect the development of children’s immune systems by reducing exposure to pathogens and allergens, or by exposing them to higher levels of the chemicals in cleaning products.
- Children in urban areas seem to be affected more often, so pollution or other environmental factors may play a role.
- Temperature can affect the skin’s function as a protective barrier, so indoor heating could affect the risk of developing allergies.
- Increasing use of soaps and other skincare products as well as bathing more often could be affecting the skin’s ability to act as a barrier.
- Exposure to a greater range of different chemicals from toiletries, household products and other sources could be affecting the developing immune system.
It may not be possible to identify one single cause for the increase in skin allergies. The reality could be more complicated, with each of these changes in our environment playing a role. As we learn more about the causes of allergies and why more children are being diagnosed with them, we should be able to work out what we can do to reduce the risk for future generations. For now, the best thing you can do is to visit us at the HSDC if you think your child might have a skin allergy.