Background: Atopic dermatitis (AD) is an allergic disorder caused by both immunological dysregulation and epidermal barrier defect. Several studies have investigated the association between AD and mental health disorders. Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are a heterogeneous group of neurodevelopmental conditions characterized by impairments in social communication and restricted, stereotyped interests and behaviors. The concurrent increased prevalence of AD and ASD in the last decades has led many scientists to investigate the relationship between the two diseases.
Objective: The aim of this systematic review was to examine the association between AD and ASD.
Methods: A systematic review was performed according to the PRISMA (Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses) guidelines. PubMed and ScienceDirect were searched up to March 2015 for all reports examining the association between ASD and AD. Descriptive statistics of the studies are reported.
Results: The review included 18 studies assessing the association between ASD and AD. Of these studies, two focused on ASD in relation to AD alone, 14 discussed ASD in relation to both AD and other atopic disorders, and two evaluated AD in parents of children with ASD. Most of these studies found a positive association between the two disorders, although there were some studies going in the opposite direction. The entity of the association is somewhat inconsistent among the different studies given that the frequencies of AD in ASD compared with a control group ranged from 7 to 64.2%. In addition, odds ratios (ORs) or hazard ratios (HRs) gave different results as three studies found a weak association with an OR below 2 and a nonsignificant p value, and three other studies found a moderate or strong association with an OR ranging from 1.52 to 7.17 and a significant p value. When all atopic disorders were considered when evaluating the risk of ASD, the association was strong with an HR of 3.4 or an OR of 1.24 and p < 0.001.
Conclusions: Overall, the results of this systematic review seem to reveal an association between ASD and AD, suggesting that subjects with ASD have an increased risk of presenting with AD compared with typically developing controls, and vice versa. This association is supported by clinical/epidemiological aspects, shared genetic background and common immunological and autoimmune processes. However, the variability in study population and design, and the presence of other risk factors acting as confounding factors, sometimes contribute to inconsistent results. Further studies are needed to clarify the underlying pathophysiologic mechanism explaining the association between ASD and AD and to explore the causal association between the two conditions.