Exposure to sunlight offers hope for eczema sufferers
Exposure to sunlight releases a compound from the skin that can alleviate symptoms of eczema, research has found.
The molecule, called nitric oxide, works by dampening inflammation, which causes itchy skin associated with the condition.
Scientists say their findings pave the way for new therapies which mimic the effects of the sun's rays and could help patients avoid light therapy, which can have damaging side-effects on the skin, such as raising the risk of cancer.
Lead researcher Dr Anne Astier, of the Medical Research Council Centre for Inflammation Research at the University of Edinburgh, said: "Our findings suggest that nitric oxide has powerful anti-inflammatory properties and could offer an alternative drug target for people with eczema."
Tests on healthy volunteers found that exposing a small patch of skin to UV light triggered a release of nitric oxide into the blood stream.
Further studies found the chemical activated specialised immune cells called regulatory T cells, which act to dampen ongoing inflammation.
The team found that patients saw their eczema improve as the number of these cells in their blood rose following light therapy.
Researchers say their findings could lead to new therapies for the condition.
People with severe forms are often prescribed tanning lamps to help manage their symptoms, but these can cause skin burning, accelerated ageing and increased risk of cancer.
Professor Richard Weller, senior lecturer in dermatology at the University of Edinburgh, said: "It is clear that the health benefits of sunlight stretch far beyond vitamin D and we are starting to fill in these blank spaces."
The study is published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.