, Volume 69, Issue 3, pp 297-306
Date: 17 Sep 2012

Systemic Therapy of Atopic Dermatitis in Children

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Atopic dermatitis (AD) is a common disease in childhood that is a serious burden on patients and their families. Most AD is mild and can be managed with the use of emollients and standard therapy consisting of topical corti-costeroids or topical calcineurin inhibitors. However, in a subgroup of patients with moderate to severe AD, the disease is recalcitrant to topical therapy and systemic treatments become necessary.

Short courses of systemic corticosteroids are often used in clinical practice, but their use is controversial. International guidelines suggest that in the case of acute flare-ups, patients might benefit from a short course of systemic corticosteroids, but long-term use and use in children should be avoided. Ciclosporin is an immunosuppressant agent that acts directly on cells of the immune system, with an inhibitory effect on T cells. When AD cannot be controlled by standard topical therapies, ciclosporin significantly decreases symptom scores, disease extent, pruritus and sleep deprivation, and improves quality of life. The most frequent adverse effects associated with the use of ciclosporin are hypertension and renal dysfunction, but they are usually reversible after drug discontinuation. Ciclosporin has been found to be safely used, effective and well tolerated in children with severe AD. However, studies to assess the long-term effectiveness and safety of ciclosporin in AD are lacking.

In patients for whom ciclosporin is not suitable, or when there is a lack of response, alternative drugs should be considered, such as azathioprine or interferon-g. Intravenous immunoglobulins and the monoclonal antibody infliximab only have a place in the systemic therapy of AD when other drugs have failed. Mycophenolate mofetil has recently been introduced in the treatment of recalcitrant AD. Efalizumab and omalizumab are monoclonal antibodies with a possible future role in the treatment of AD, but further studies are needed.