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Fine-fibre wool clothing appears better for childhood eczema than cotton

Clothing made with ultrafine Merino wool appears to improve symptoms of childhood eczema compared to cotton clothing, a finding which investigators said contradicts common wisdom that wool is an irritant and a potential allergen to eczematous skin.

In a press release from the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute in Parkville, Australia, the study’s lead author, associate professor John Su, MBBS, from Monash University in Clayton, Australia, said the results “challenge our current practice” when advising about the suitability of wool for children with eczema.

“When comparing with cotton, there are inherent differences in fibre properties. [Merino] wool’s greater ability to transfer moisture vapour and heat than other major apparel fibres enable it to maintain a more stable microclimate between the skin and garment,” Dr. Su said.

The findings were published online in the British Journal of Dermatology (Feb. 9, 2017).

A total of 39 patients, aged four weeks to three years, with mild-to-moderate atopic dermatitis were enrolled in a 12-week randomized, assessor-blinded, cross-over prospective cohort study. The children were assigned either superfine Merino wool clothing or cotton clothing, and were assessed every three weeks for six weeks, after which they crossed over clothing types and were again assessed every three weeks for six weeks. SCORAD after each six-week period was the primary endpoint, and secondary endpoints included the Atopic Dermatitis Severity Index (ADSI), Infant’s Dermatitis Quality of Life index (IDQOL), and topical steroid use.

When children switched to wool after wearing cotton, they showed a significant decrease in eczema severity whereas eczema worsened when those wore wool changed to cotton. In particular, there was a mean reduction in SCORAD of 2.5 (95% CI=-4.7,-0.4) at three weeks and 7.6 (95% CI=-10.4,-4.8) at six weeks when compared to the cotton clothing. As well, similar changes were seen in ADSI and IDQOL scores for the same period, and body steroid use was also reduced.

Switching to cotton from the ultrafine wool resulted in increased scores.

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