Recently, dermatologists and medical students from across the nation attended the 37th Annual Advances in Dermatology meeting held at New York University. Dr. Seth Orlow, chairman of the Department of Dermatology at New York University School of Medicine, presented on the connection between atopic dermatitis, more commonly known as eczema, and the skin’s complex microbiome.

One key aspect of Orlow’s presentation involved the often misunderstood relationship between eczema and a specific strain of bacteria called Staphylococcus aureus.

Cause or Effect?

Numerous studies have found that people with eczema nearly always have a much higher concentration of S. aureus bacteria living on their skin than those without this common condition. In fact, the more severe the eczema, the greater the amount of S. aureus that seems to be present on the skin.

These findings lead many to believe that this bacteria causes eczema but this can lead to overuse of irritating antibacterial soaps and overuse of antibiotics. Orlow tells Dermatology Times that focusing on S. aureus as the sole cause of atopic dermatitis is problematic, as the more likely scenario is that the underlying inflammation of this skin condition is what leads to an overabundance of S. aureus colonization on the skin.

As a result, treating eczema with aggressive rounds of oral or topical antibiotics to get rid of this bacteria could do more harm than good in the long run because these treatments are not generally effective and contribute to the growing problem of antibiotic resistance all over the country.