Research Trend Report: Itch, Climate Change and More

An up close photo of a person wearing a pink shirt scratching their inner elbow

By Clare Maloney

Published On: Mar 26, 2024

Last Updated On: Mar 28, 2024

Eczema research continues to advance rapidly with new treatments and groundbreaking studies underway. Part of our mission at the National Eczema Association (NEA) is to support and contribute to these critical advances in how we understand and treat this complex condition. 

To inform our Research Trend Report, we’ve asked members of our research team what recent developments in the broader eczema world they’re most excited about to help stay up to date on the latest news in eczema research. Here’s what they had to say:

1. Understanding what causes itch, eczema’s most common symptom

Exciting new research: In a November 2023 study, published in Cell, researchers demonstrated how one microbe, called Staphylococcus aureus (S. aureus), causes itch.

“Scientists across the world are working to understand exactly what causes itch, and since the skin barrier is constantly exposed to various microbes, it has been a topic of interest,” said Allison Loiselle, PhD, senior manager of data science and research at NEA. 

What they found: “While previous research has shown that people with conditions like atopic dermatitis have S. aureus on their skin, this is the first study to show that this pathogenic bacteria actually causes itch,” said Loiselle. 

The authors found that mice exposed to S. aureus had itch and scratch damage, and that itch-induced scratching made the skin damage worse. “To further explain why this reaction was happening, the researchers isolated different S. aureus enzyme pathways,” explained Loiselle. “They found one enzyme that single-handedly initiated itch by activating a protein found on skin neurons. This protein (PAR1) sends an itch signal to the brain.”

Why this matters: “This is exciting for patients because it is potentially a new target for eczema treatments,” said Loiselle. “In fact, when the researchers used a PAR1 blocker on mice, their desire to scratch and skin damage reduced dramatically. [However,] itch is complex, and there are many other types of microbes that may impact the skin and itch in eczema.” 

2. The Impact of climate change on atopic dermatitis (AD): A review by the International Eczema Council

Exciting new research: A January 2024 review, published in the European Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, highlighted the current and potential future impact of climate change on the incidence of AD.2

What they found: “This study shows that the majority of climatic hazards linked to greenhouse emissions have a negative impact on AD prevalence, severity and AD healthcare utilization,” said Jessica Johnson, MPH, director of community research and engagement at NEA.  

“The impact of climate change on AD is impacted by the geographic region and climate,” Johnson explained. “For example, precipitation was shown to increase risk of AD in children in the United States, however, studies in other geographical regions have shown that precipitation is only associated with increased AD symptoms when daily rainfall was below a certain threshold.” 

Why this matters: “Weather-driven flares may impact a patient’s AD self-management, stress levels and care utilization,” Johnson said. “AD patients and caregivers should feel empowered to advocate for clean energy and use of air filtration to reduce climatic hazard exposures.” 

3. Establishing updated clinical guidelines for AD

Exciting new research: A December 2023 report established new clinical guidelines for AD, consolidating a tremendous amount of research findings from the last decade, into a digestible, current resource for healthcare providers and other stakeholders that contribute to AD care and access to AD treatments.3

What they found: The [new] guideline is fairly comprehensive and contains 25 recommendations covering the general use of topical and systemic treatments, bleach baths, dietary avoidance/elimination and allergen immunotherapy [for AD].

“Perhaps most importantly, these guidelines were developed with multi-stakeholder input, including the insights of AD patients and caregivers in recognition of the lived experience expertise that they alone can provide,” said Wendy Smith Begolka, MBS, chief strategy officer of research, medical and community affairs at NEA.

Why this matters: “It’s been over a decade since the last clinical guidelines for AD were released — these are documents that healthcare providers and others use as a reference for how to generally approach AD care and treatment,” said Smith Begolka. 

“A lot of rigorous scientific work goes into their development, and it’s challenging to keep up with rapidly evolving treatments and research.”

“Guidelines are not meant to cover every scenario, so best interpretation of these guidelines is still important during individual care discussions [with your healthcare provider],” she explained. 

Your role in research

If you have eczema or love someone who does, don’t miss your chance to take part in ongoing eczema research and help inform what happens next. Learn more about opportunities to get involved in eczema research.


  1. Deng L, Costa F, Blake KJ, et al. S. aureus drives itch and scratch-induced skin damage through a V8 protease-PAR1 axis. Cell. 2023;186(24):5375-5393.e25. doi:10.1016/j.cell.2023.10.019
  2. Wang SP, Stefanovic N, Orfali RL, et al. Impact of climate change on atopic dermatitis: A review by the International Eczema Council. Allergy. Published online January 24, 2024. doi:10.1111/all.16007
  3. AAAAI/ACAAI JTF Atopic Dermatitis Guideline Panel, Chu DK, Schneider L, et al. Atopic dermatitis (eczema) guidelines: 2023 American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology/American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology Joint Task Force on Practice Parameters GRADE- and Institute of Medicine-based recommendations. Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol. 2024;132(3):274-312. doi:10.1016/j.anai.2023.11.009

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