Asthma and eczema could increase risk of osteoarthritis, study finds

People who have asthma or eczema could be at a higher risk of developing osteoarthritis and existing allergy medications could help slow the progression, a study found.

Asthma and eczema could increase risk of osteoarthritis, study finds

People who have asthma or eczema could be at a higher risk of developing osteoarthritis, a new study from Stanford University has found. 

Additionally, researchers postulate that existing allergy medications could block an allergic pathway to help slow the progression of the degenerative joint disease.

"The main implication of our study is that we found an association between having allergic diseases, such as asthma and atopic dermatitis, and having an increased risk of developing osteoarthritis," lead author Dr. Matthew C. Baker, clinical chief and assistant professor of medicine in the Division of Immunology and Rheumatology at Stanford University in Northern California, told Fox News Digital.

The research was published in Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases.

In a previous study, Baker and his team found that mast cells, which are allergy cells that trigger physical reactions to allergens, may cause allergic inflammation that can lead to osteoporosis. 

For this research, the team excluded people who did not have osteoarthritis.

They reviewed claims data from January 2003 to June 2019 and electronic health record data from January 2010 to December 2020.

These patients were divided into two groups: 1) an "exposed" group, which included patients with a diagnosis of asthma and/or atopic dermatitis; and 2) the "non-exposed" group, which included patients who were not coded in the data sets as having asthma or atopic dermatitis.

Among the people who had asthma or eczema, there was a 58% greater risk of developing osteoarthritis within a decade. 

That risk jumped to 115% for those who had both asthma and eczema, per a press release discussing the findings. 

Strong and flexible connective tissue called cartilage protects the joints from the wear and tear of everyday use. Yet joints can still wear down over time, leading to a degenerative joint disease known as osteoarthritis, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

As the cartilage starts to break down and the surrounding bone slowly changes, people may experience joint pain, stiffness and swelling — most frequently in the hands, hips and knees, per the CDC.

Over time, it may become difficult to perform daily activities. 

Chronic pain may impact the quality of life.

The most common form of arthritis, OA affects more than 50 million people in the United States, per the report. 

Although OA is primarily thought to be a "wear and tear" disease, Baker’s team previously discovered that low-grade inflammation is also a factor.

"Given the role of mast cells in allergic diseases, we hypothesized that people with a history of allergic disease might have an increased risk of developing OA," Baker told Fox News Digital.

Atopic dermatitis, often referred to as eczema, is a chronic skin condition that causes inflammation, redness and irritation that often itches, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Steroid creams are sometimes prescribed to decrease inflammation. 

Some patients take antihistamines to help with the itchiness.

More than 31 million Americans have eczema, according to the Cleveland Clinic. It's very common among infants, affecting 10% to 20% of them.

Asthma, which causes difficulty breathing due to inflammation and swelling of the airways, affects nearly 26 million adults in the U.S., per the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America.

This is equivalent to about one in every 13 people.

Baker noted the study’s main limitation stems from the fact that it relies on self-reported claims data, which he said is "imperfect."

The team could not account for the study participants’ genetic tendencies or their specific treatments. 

For example, people might have been taking antihistamines for eczema or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) for osteoarthritis.

Baker noted that it was beyond the scope of this new study to investigate ways to modify disease risk.

"We are hopeful that in the future, this observation will lead to interventional studies to investigate whether inhibition of allergic pathways may be beneficial in preventing or treating osteoarthritis," Baker told Fox News Digital.

However, he said that in another data analysis, the team found that the use of antihistamines was associated with reduced progression in osteoarthritis of the knee.

"We are hopeful that any number of drugs that work to inhibit mast cells or mast cell products, such as histamine, will reduce the incidence of OA in these patients, but this needs to be studied in a prospective manner," Baker said.