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Watch out for the rash that can break your bones

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Eczema, or dermatitis, generally refers to a rash that causes dried out, reddish, itchy skin. While the condition itself may not be an acute health threat, research shows that, surprisingly, it can seriously increase your risk of a bone fracture.

A study at Northwestern Medicine demonstrates that within a year of being diagnosed with eczema, your chances of enduring accidental injury and broken bones climbs significantly. The researchers believe that this risk is linked to the side effects of drugs used to treat the condition and, conversely, to the effects of under treating some cases.

“Many eczema patients who are prescribed medication for itch are often given sedating antihistamines or steroids, but those medications may come at a price,” warns researcher Jonathan I. Silverberg. “Sedatives cause fatigue, and steroids can lead to bone density problems and osteoporosis.”

Silverberg, a dermatologist, decided to study the problem when he noticed a large number of his eczema patients were experiencing accidents.

“Last month three of my patients with eczema cancelled at the last minute because of injuries,” Silverberg says. “One fell and almost got hit by a bus, another was hit by a car and then another missed her appointment because she was in a car accident. You can’t make this stuff up.”

More than 10 percent of Americans suffer eczema. About a third of people with the condition experience moderate-to-severe symptoms. When the rashes spread, the resulting itchiness can be highly distracting.

“(Eczema) makes it almost impossible to function normally at work and to take care of the activities of daily living,” Silverberg said. “The itch is waking patients up from their sleep at night, much in the way that chronic pain patients have difficulties sleeping.”

Silverberg’s study of national statistics shows that within a year of developing eczema your risk of injury of any sort grows by 44 percent. And if you are over the age of 30, your increased risk increases by close to 90 percent.

“Until better options are developed to manage eczema and itch, doctors should remind patients of the side effects of their medication and encourage them to use caution when out and about and avoid situations like driving while using sedating antihistamines,” he says.

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