By Dr. Maria Simbra

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – For years, the most common treatment for eczema has been steroid creams.

However, those have drawbacks and don’t work for everyone.

Now, for the first time in decades, there’s a new treatment for eczema that’s showing promise.

Recent high school graduate Tony Damico is itchy all the time.

“I was squirming, trying not to itch, and everything, but it’s impossible not to,” Damico said.

Eczema is a condition where an overactive immune system attacks the skin, which leads to redness, leathery skin, scratch marks and infection. It affects one-in-eight children.

Damico has tried steroid creams, which are the standard treatment, but they aren’t ideal.

“It made his skin very sensitive – sensitive to sun. It seemed to make his skin thinner, too,” Amy Damico said.

“If you overuse topical steroids, you can thin the skin, you can develop steroid acne, you can get stretch marks,” Children’s Hospital Pediatric Dermatologist Dr. Douglas Kress said. “I’ve had little babies get very hairy from using potent topical steroids.”

The problem with steroid creams is that they aren’t to be used on more than 20 percent of the body. So, let’s say your arm and leg are affected. An arm is 9 percent, a leg is 18 percent — you’re already over the limit.

Dr. Kress said new options are long overdue.

“We haven’t really had a new treatment for eczema in decades. And now there’s the first hint of a new one coming,” he said. “For kids who are really covered with eczema, where the topical steroids are not really a reasonable option, this would be a great option.”

The new medicine is in a class called biologics. It would be given as a shot, every other week, to settle the immune system.

It’s for people who have not responded to steroid creams. In four out of five study participants, symptoms improved 50 to 75 percent over 12 weeks.

Risks include an increased risk of infections. It’s likely to be very expensive, costing tens of thousands of dollars a year.

“For kids with severe disease, I would hope these things would be covered,” Dr. Kress said.

But, it still has to get through phase three clinical trials to show it works better than placebo before the FDA gives its nod.

If everything goes without a hitch, it could be on the market in 2017. It’s an option Tony and his family would welcome.

“I would gladly take a shot over taking pills or putting on creams anymore,” Tony Damico said.

“We always had hope, with each new treatment, new doctor, or whatever we used. Oral or topical. We’ve always had hope and still do,” Amy Damico said.

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Dr. Maria Simbra