The Consumer’s Guide to Biologics for Atopic Dermatitis

Everything you need to know about this new treatment for eczema, including whether it may work for you.

Medically Reviewed

M ore than 16 million adults in the United States have atopic dermatitis, a common form of eczema that often causes flare-ups of dry, itchy, discolored patches of skin. It particularly affects the insides of the elbows and knees, as well as the hands, feet, and face, according to the National Eczema Association.

Atopic dermatitis is a chronic condition that tends to rear its itchy head during certain periods, especially stressful times, before possibly subsiding for months or even years.

The good news? Dermatologists have a wide range of medications that can help treat atopic dermatitis. The latest type in their arsenal is a biologic, which can help tamp down inflammation. Here’s what you should know about this new medication.

How Current Biologics Work in the Body to Fight Atopic Dermatitis

In medical speak, biologics are very “targeted” medications, meaning they work by homing in on specific molecules in the body responsible for triggering inflammation, says Alok Vij, MD, director of the Dermatology Residency Program at the Cleveland Clinic.

Biologics have revolutionized the treatment of several dermatologic disorders
—?Shawn Kwatra, MD (@drshawnkwatra)

How Other Atopic Dermatitis Medications Work

“Biologics have revolutionized the treatment of several dermatologic disorders,” says Shawn Kwatra, MD, director of the Johns Hopkins Itch Center in Baltimore. Whereas some other medications lower inflammation in a broad manner, these medications work by targeting specific molecules in the body. Here’s a brief guide to some of the other common atopic dermatitis treatment options on the market.

  • Topical hydrocortisone, a low-strength steroid that’s sold over the counter, is available as an ointment, cream, lotion, or gel and applied directly to the skin.
  • Topical corticosteroids, which are also applied to the skin, can help quell inflammation and itching. They’re available in different strengths, with the potency levels ranging from very potent (Class 1) to least potent (Class 7).
  • Immunosuppressants — like their name suggests —?suppress the immune system more broadly, tamping down the inflammation that triggers symptoms like itching and irritation.
  • Phototherapy, or light therapy, uses different wavelengths of UV light to treat atopic dermatitis.

5 Essential Facts About Biologics for Atopic Dermatitis

Here’s a quick primer on what you need to know about this medication.

5 FAQs About Biologics for Atopic Dermatitis, Answered

Wondering whether a biologic is right for you? Here are some frequently asked questions about the medication.

Who Is a Candidate for a Biologic?

A biologic can be a good choice for some people who have atopic dermatitis (especially those whose condition is moderate to severe), but others may want to try a different medication. Here are a few things to consider.

Next Steps: Making Atopic Dermatitis Treatment Decisions

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You’ve learned a lot about biologics for atopic dermatitis, but how do you decide whether they’re right for you?

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Self-Reflection

Before your next doctor’s appointment, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Am I in remission — meaning my eczema flares are currently under control?
  2. Have I experienced a resurgence of symptoms since starting my current treatment?
  3. Am I satisfied with my current atopic dermatitis treatment?
  4. Is my atopic dermatitis interfering with my quality of life? (For example, is my condition causing me to feel anxious or depressed?)
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Doctor Discussion

Keep these questions on hand to use at your next doctor’s appointment.

  1. What else can I do to ease my symptoms?
  2. Am I a good candidate for a biologic, or is there another medication I should consider?
  3. What results can I expect from this medication?
  4. How soon will I experience some progress on this medication?
  5. How long will I need to use this medication?
  6. How long can I expect to stay in remission?