Along with shortness of breath, wheezing, and coughing, asthma can be accompanied by conditions that impact the skin. Itching and skin rash are frustrating and at times debilitating symptoms that can significantly impact your quality of life.
Members of MyAsthmaTeam have shared how skin problems affect them:
If you or your child have itchy skin, rashes, or bumps along with asthma, it’s helpful to understand some common causes so you can discuss treatment options with your health care team. Here are some skin conditions that people with asthma may be more likely to develop.
More than 20 percent of adults with atopic dermatitis — the most common type of eczema — also have asthma. Both asthma and eczema are sometimes linked to allergies and to an overactive immune system. Eczema flares cause intensely itchy skin that can become swollen, dry, discolored, or cracked.
Eczema is common in infants and children but can also significantly impact quality of life in adulthood. Children diagnosed with eczema are three times as likely to develop asthma or nasal allergies within five years, compared to those without eczema. These odds are higher in children who were diagnosed very young and have persistent, difficult-to-treat eczema.
Contact dermatitis is another common type of eczema that’s triggered by one or more specific substances, such as nickel in jewelry or ingredients in detergent or cosmetics. Avoiding irritants you’re sensitive to is the main way to manage contact dermatitis.
Environmental allergies to substances like dust mites or pet dander are common with this group of conditions, so diagnosing and managing them may be an essential part of treatment.
“I have a ton of allergies,” shared another MyAsthmaTeam member. “The rash I have currently is an allergic reaction, but it’s also dry skin as well. My asthma has flared up, and I’m unsure why. I’m about ready to rent a carpet steamer for our apartment.”
Allergy testing to determine your triggers can help you figure out what precautions you can take to keep symptoms under control. Talk to your medical professional about allergy testing before you remove any foods from your or your child’s diet.
If you scratch your itchy skin, over time it may lead to chronic bumps or nodules known as prurigo nodularis (PN). Typically seen in older adults, PN is an intensely itchy condition thought to be related to an overactive immune system. Doctors aren’t sure exactly what causes PN — but if you have another itchy skin condition, you have a higher chance of developing it.
PN symptoms can resemble those of other skin conditions, so diagnosing it can be difficult. Treating the condition is also tough, and people with PN sometimes develop feelings of depression, frustration, and isolation. Itching can also impair your ability to get a good night’s sleep.
If you’ve been diagnosed with PN or suspect you have it, you may benefit from connecting with others on MyPrurigoTeam. Like MyAsthmaTeam, it’s a social support network that can provide more insight and connect you with a community that understands what you’re going through.
Eosinophilic asthma is a severe form of asthma characterized by high levels of eosinophils in your sputum. Eosinophils are a type of white blood cell and part of the immune system that fights parasites and causes allergies. In eosinophilic asthma, levels of these cells are elevated, leading to inflammation. High eosinophil counts are sometimes associated with itchy skin conditions like atopic dermatitis and PN.
Health experts estimate that up to 10 percent of people with asthma may have this severe subtype. On MyAsthmaTeam, more than 70 members report having eosinophilic asthma.
Eosinophilic asthma can require more targeted treatments than regular asthma symptoms. In addition to recommending standard asthma inhalers, your doctor may suggest a biologic drug that affects specific immune pathways to reduce inflammation. Environmental allergies can also play a role in this type of asthma, so your health care provider will consider potential triggers when assessing your condition and making recommendations.
About 20 percent of all people develop urticaria (hives) — itchy, raised bumps — at some point. Hives can be triggered by insect bites, allergies, or certain medications. However, about 60 percent of the time, hives may be caused by infections, such as strep or the common cold.
Some members of MyAsthmaTeam have reported getting sick more frequently after being diagnosed with asthma. “I’m curious if any of you get frequent upper respiratory infections,” said one member. “Since I’ve had asthma, I get sick every three to four months and usually end up on antibiotics and steroids.”
Others responded with similar experiences. Some said they had fewer infections once they had a better plan for controlling asthma symptoms.
If you develop hives, antihistamines may help get rid of them — and nonsedating antihistamines are generally preferable. In more severe cases, corticosteroids like prednisone are necessary.
Psoriasis is an autoimmune skin disease in which an overactive immune system makes skin cells reproduce rapidly in certain patches. These areas can become itchy and feel and appear scaly.
Researchers have found that people with psoriasis — particularly adults over 50 — are more susceptible to asthma, but the underlying causes of this potential link aren’t fully clear. Having psoriasis can also increase your risk for developing some other diseases, including arthritis.
Genetics may raise your risk of psoriasis, and it’s often seen with other conditions like asthma. “I was just diagnosed with psoriasis on both legs above the ankle. I’ve been using Cortisone 10, which is helping a little. I use a moisturizer on top of it to help with the burning, itchy sensation,” explained a MyAsthmaTeam member.
Psoriasis symptoms can usually be controlled with treatments like phototherapy (light therapy), medicated creams, and other prescription medications.
Some of the triggers and underlying causes of itchy skin overlap with asthma. For instance, stress can make itching worse, so it’s important to be mindful of how your mental health physically affects your body. By maintaining good asthma control, avoiding allergens and irritants, managing stress, and practicing good skin care, you can get a better handle on the frequency and severity of itchy rashes.
Living with asthma can be challenging, and dealing with itchy skin rashes adds another layer of discomfort. It’s important to see your primary medical professional, a dermatologist, or an allergist if your or your child’s skin itching or discomfort is affecting the quality of life.
MyAsthmaTeam is the social network for people with asthma and their caregivers and loved ones. On MyAsthmaTeam, more than 10,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with asthma.
Have you had itchy skin or rash with asthma? How do you manage these symptoms? Share your experience in the comments below. If you’ve had chronic, intensely itchy bumps that may be related to prurigo nodularis, consider connecting with others on MyPrurigoTeam.