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Dust mite juice: a new eczema treatment

The good news is that scientists have found a new way to treat eczema. The bad news is that it's drinkable dust mite extract.
Credit: PA Images / Getty Images
Key Takeaways
  • One of the leading causes of eczema (i.e., atopic dermatitis) is an allergy to dust mites.
  • Other dust mite allergies, such as asthma, can be treated by injecting patients with small doses of dust mite extract. However, this has not been effective for eczema.
  • However, patients who applied dust mite extract to their tongue for three months had significantly reduced eczema symptoms.

In Mrs. Doubtfire, Robin Williams’ character plunges his face into cake and emerges with a globby, meringue face mask. For those suffering from eczema (i.e., atopic dermatitis), this scene is all too relatable. There is no predicting when the chronic inflammatory disease will flare up, but when it does, the best relief is slathering globs of lotion on the itchy, cracked skin.

Thanks to a successful clinical trial, sufferers of eczema may now have a better treatment. The bad news is that it they might have to drink dust mite extract for a few months.

Sometimes, the cause of an allergy is also the cure

The clinical trial relies on a treatment strategy developed over a century ago. In 1911, Leonard Noon, an English pathologist, was curious as to why seasonal allergies disappear for some people. He knew the allergies were triggered by pollen, an allergen, and he suspected that these fortunate individuals developed anti-allergen molecules, which can sometimes happen after repeated exposure to the allergen. So, he conducted an experiment on individuals with seasonal allergies. At first, he injected low doses of pollen into the participants. Over the course of a month, he increased the dose. By the end of the experiment, the pollen no longer caused an allergic response. The participants’ seasonal allergies were cured! 

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Over the last century, scientists have refined Noon’s treatment strategy, called injected-allergen immunotherapy, and have shown it to be effective at preventing a variety of allergic conditions, including those caused by dust mite allergies like asthma and conjunctivitis. However, the strategy is not an effective eczema treatment, which can also be triggered by dust mites.

When researchers designed the recent clinical trial, they deviated from Noon’s design: instead of receiving injections, the patients placed a few drops of dust mite extract on their tongue. Over the last couple decades, this route of administration has been growing in popularity. Studies have shown it can be as effective as injection. Plus, it is much easier for a patient to self-administer a few drops to the tongue than visit the doctor for an injection three times a week.

Drinking instead of injecting

If putting a few drops of mashed up dust mite under your tongue sounds unappealing, don’t worry! It is not as bad as it sounds. Dust mite extract is just the liquid bits of mashed up dust mites. The solid bits are removed through centrifugation. So it’s more like dust mite juice than dust mite smoothie. And after 18 months of treatment, participants receiving dust mite juice experienced a 56% improvement (compared to 35% in the placebo group). In some cases, the eczema symptoms almost disappeared entirely.

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