April 14 (UPI) -- Children with eczema are up to three times as likely to be diagnosed with a learning disability compared to those without the condition, a study published Wednesday by JAMA Dermatology found.
Those with a mild form of the skin condition, also known as atopic dermatitis, have a 72% higher risk of being diagnosed with a learning disability, while those with moderate eczema have double the risk, the data showed.
Young people with severe eczema have a three-fold higher risk for developing a learning disability, the researchers said.
Although the reasons for the relationship between the skin condition and learning problems are unclear, it is possible that symptoms such as chronic itch may contribute to "poor sleep and inattention [and thus] may impact one's ability to learn," study co-author Dr. Joy Wan told UPI in an email.
"It is also possible that shared inflammatory pathways may link [eczema] and learning," said Wan, a dermatologist at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.
Eczema typically develops in early childhood, and its primary symptom is a red, itchy rash that usually appears on the arms and behind the knees, according to the National Eczema Association.
About 3 million cases of eczema, in both children and adults, are reported in the United States each year, the Mayo Clinic estimates.
Meanwhile, about one in 10 children are diagnosed with learning disabilities nationally, research suggests.
Examples of learning disabilities include dyslexia, which affects reading and language processing skills, and non-verbal learning disabilities, in which affected children have trouble interpreting nonverbal cues such as facial expressions or body language and may have poor coordination, according to the Learning Disabilities Association of America.
For this study, Wan and her colleagues analyzed data on more than 2,000 children with eczema ages 2 to 17 over a 10-year follow-up period.
Just over 8% of the study participants reported a diagnosed learning disability, although the researchers did not identify specific types.
Compared to children without a learning disability, those with one were about twice as likely to have moderate to severe eczema, the data showed.
For example, 9% of those with a learning disability had severe eczema, compared to less than 5% without.
In addition, 30% of those with a learning disability had moderate eczema, compared to 17% without, according to the researchers.
About 29% of children with as learning disability had mild eczema, compared to 24% without, they said.
"Our findings suggest that atopic dermatitis is a potential driver of learning problems, which if true, would have clinical implications for screening and treatment of patients," Wan said.
"I would advise parents and caregivers to discuss any concerns they have about their child's learning or functioning in school with their providers so that formal learning evaluations and appropriate therapies and supports can be pursued early," she said.