– Biologics are revolutionizing the treatment of atopic dermatitis (AD), but a dermatologist urged colleagues to keep in mind the value of traditional topical and systemic treatments.

Dr. Joseph F. Fowler Jr., University of Louisville, Ky.

Dr. Joseph F. Fowler Jr.

Joseph F. Fowler Jr., MD, of the University of Louisville, Ky., offered these tips about AD treatment in a presentation at the Skin Disease Education Foundation’s annual Las Vegas Dermatology Seminar:

  • Keep the epidermal skin barrier in mind.

The epidermal skin barrier is abnormal in patients with AD, Dr. Fowler said, because of several possible factors: altered levels of natural moisturizing factor (which can be caused by a genetic mutation), imbalances between ceramides and lipids, and reduced aquaporin levels.

Enhancing the skin barrier is crucial in treating AD, he said, and products with these ingredients may help: ceramides, glycerin/glycerol (glucoside), colloidal oatmeal, and components of natural moisturizing factor.

  • Expensive products are probably better.

“These products are available over the counter and via prescription,” he said. “Do they make the skin barrier stronger? The answer is they probably they do. But most do tend to be expensive, especially Rx products.”

Not all patients, of course, can afford the most expensive options. “You and your patients have to decide whether it’s better to get something like plain old Vaseline or a very inexpensive cream at Walmart that may be more accessible,” he said. “I tell patients that if the cost is not a big issue, these other products are probably better, and they will make your skin heal better and feel better. But if cost is a problem, use what you can afford.”

  • Don’t forget about hypochlorous acid.

While it’s chemically similar to bleach, this product “doesn’t bleach your clothes or smell bleachy,” Dr. Fowler said. “It does have antibiotic and antipruritic effects.”

  • For predictability, try methotrexate.

Methotrexate, an old workhorse in dermatology, remains an option, especially for patients who need alternatives to biologics, Dr. Fowler said. “I’ve used it much more in the last 10 years for eczema than for psoriasis and anything else. We’re used to using it, and I find it predictably effective at a dosage that’s similar to that for psoriasis.”

  • Mycophenolate mofetil (CellCept) may be helpful.

Dr. Fowler’s research has shown that mycophenolate mofetil is useful in about 50% of chronic AD cases. “The problem with the drug is that you couldn’t tell which ones would get better and which ones wouldn’t.” Still, it can be an alternative to methotrexate and cyclosporine, he said.

  • Cyclosporine is a short-term treatment.

“It’s like steroids on steroids,” Dr. Fowler said. “I’ve had to use it sometimes even in the age of biologics, which may not work as fast as we’d like in someone who’s really miserable.” The drug is linked to liver and kidney risks, he cautioned, and “you don’t want to be on it very long.”

  • Ultraviolet light therapy can help.

This strategy works well “if they come in and get to the office and do it,” Dr. Fowler said. “We should remember it as an option.”

A patient who’s over 80 years old with bad AD has been getting narrow-band UVB treatments for at least 5 years, he said. “I just look at him every 3-4 months. Every time he says, ‘Can I keep coming and get my light treatments?’ and I say sure. At 80-plus, I’m not too worried about cutaneous malignancy or any other side effects.”

Dr. Fowler reported relationships with the speaker’s bureau of SmartPractice and ties with Asana, Johnson & Johnson, Lilly, Novartis and Pfizer. SDEF and this news organization are owned by the same parent company.