‘Itchometer’ will help treat children with eczema

An ‘itchometer’ developed by scientists at the Universities of Edinburgh and Newcastle will help doctors to treat more effectively children whose sleep is affected by eczema.

Skin disease experts who developed the accelerometer – a watch-like device which measures scratching and restlessness – found that children with eczema spend restless nights itching and scratching and lose around three-quarters of an hour’s sleep nightly.

The new findings, revealed in this month’s Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology will not only be used to measure the severity of the disease but may also lead to work on the way disturbed sleep impacts on the daytime behaviour and energy levels of children with eczema.

Scientists from the Universities of Edinburgh and Newcastle used the newly-developed accelerometer and monitoring infra-red video cameras to assess night-time disturbance amongst young patients.

The research involved 14 children aged two to nine with eczema and seven children without skin problems. Within an eight-hour period, the children with eczema spent an average of 46 minutes less sleeping, and showed two to three times more restlessness and scratching, than did the other children.

The study’s findings also show there is little relation between parental assessment of itch and objectively measured scratch.

Professor Jonathan Rees, Professor of Dermatology at of the University of Edinburgh and a co-author of the study, said: ‘Itch is a major symptom of skin disease and remains poorly studied. Our research shows that nocturnal scratching and restlessness are more complex than we first thought, with many movements that potentially damage the skin not conforming to typical scratch movements.’

‘Accelerometers provide a useful and practical way of assessing scratching at night in the patient’s own home and could be used an objective measure of disease activity, both in clinical trials and in everyday clinical practice,’ he concluded.