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|Family Medicine (FM)/General Practice (GP)|
|General Internal Medicine-Primary Care(US)|
BACKGROUND: The symptoms of eczema can lead to sleeplessness and fatigue and may have a substantial impact on quality of life. Use of oral H1 antihistamines (H1 AH) as adjuvant therapy alongside topical agents is based on the idea that combining the anti-inflammatory effects of topical treatments with the blocking action of histamine on its receptors in the skin by H1 AH (to reduce the principal symptom of itch) might magnify or intensify the effect of treatment. Also, it would be unethical to compare oral H1 AH alone versus no treatment, as topical treatment is the standard management for this condition.
OBJECTIVES: To assess the effects of oral H1 antihistamines as 'add-on' therapy to topical treatment in adults and children with eczema.
SEARCH METHODS: We searched the following databases up to May 2018: the Cochrane Skin Group Specialised Register, CENTRAL, MEDLINE, Embase, and the GREAT database (Global Resource of EczemA Trials; from inception). We searched five trials registers and checked the reference lists of included and excluded studies for further references to relevant randomised controlled trials (RCTs). We also searched the abstracts of four conference proceedings held between 2000 and 2018.
SELECTION CRITERIA: We sought RCTs assessing oral H1 AH as 'add-on' therapy to topical treatment for people with eczema compared with topical treatment plus placebo or no additional treatment as add-on therapy.
DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS: We used standard Cochrane methodological procedures. Primary outcome measures were 'Mean change in patient-assessed symptoms of eczema' and 'Proportion of participants reporting adverse effects and serious adverse events'. Secondary outcomes were 'Mean change in physician-assessed clinical signs', 'Mean change in quality of life', and 'Number of eczema flares'.
MAIN RESULTS: We included 25 studies (3285 randomised participants). Seventeen studies included 1344 adults, and eight studies included 1941 children. Most studies failed to report eczema severity at baseline, but they were conducted in secondary care settings, so it is likely that they recruited patients with more severe cases of eczema. Trial duration was between three days and 18 months. Researchers studied 13 different H1 AH treatments. We could not undertake pooling because of the high level of diversity across studies in terms of duration and dose of intervention, concomitant topical therapy, and outcome assessment. Risk of bias was generally unclear, but five studies had high risk of bias in one domain (attrition, selection, or reporting bias). Only one study measured quality of life, but these results were insufficient for statistical analysis.Although this review assessed 17 comparisons, we summarise here the results of three key comparisons in this review.Cetirizine versus placeboOne study compared cetirizine 0.5 mg/kg/d against placebo over 18 months in 795 children. Study authors did not report patient-assessed symptoms of eczema separately for pruritus. Cetirizine is probably associated with fewer adverse events (mainly mild) (risk ratio (RR) 0.68, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.46 to 1.01) and the need for slightly less additional H1 AH use as an indication of eczema flare rate (P = 0.035; no further numerical data given). Physician-assessed clinical signs (SCORing Atopic Dermatitis index (SCORAD)) were reduced in both groups, but the difference between groups was reported as non-significant (no P value given). Evidence for this comparison was of moderate quality.One study assessed cetirizine 10 mg/d against placebo over four weeks in 84 adults. Results show no evidence of differences between groups in patient-assessed symptoms of eczema (pruritus measured as part of SCORAD; no numerical data given), numbers of adverse events (RR 1.11, 95% CI 0.50 to 2.45; mainly sedation, other skin-related problems, respiratory symptoms, or headache), or physician-assessed changes in clinical signs, amount of local rescue therapy required, or number of applications as an indicator of eczema flares (no numerical data reported). Evidence for this comparison was of low quality.Fexofenadine versus placeboCompared with placebo, fexofenadine 120 mg/d taken in adults over one week (one study) probably leads to a small reduction in patient-assessed symptoms of pruritus on a scale of 0 to 8 (mean difference (MD) -0.25, 95% CI -0.43 to -0.07; n = 400) and a greater reduction in the ratio of physician-assessed pruritus area to whole body surface area (P = 0.007; no further numerical data given); however, these reductions may not be clinically meaningful. Results suggest probably little or no difference in adverse events (mostly somnolence and headache) (RR 1.05, 95% CI 0.74 to 1.50; n = 411) nor in the amount of 0.1% hydrocortisone butyrate used (co-intervention in both groups) as an indicator of eczema flare, but no numerical data were given. Evidence for this comparison was of moderate quality.Loratadine versus placeboA study of 28 adults compared loratadine 10 mg/d taken over 4 weeks versus placebo. Researchers found no evidence of differences between groups in patient-assessed pruritus, measured by a 100-point visual analogue scale (MD -2.30, 95% CI -20.27 to 15.67); reduction in physician-assessed clinical signs (SCORAD) (MD -4.10, 95% CI -13.22 to 5.02); or adverse events. Study authors reported only one side effect (folliculitis with placebo) (RR 0.25, 95% CI 0.01 to 5.76). Evidence for this comparison was of low quality. Number of eczema flares was not measured for this comparison.
AUTHORS' CONCLUSIONS: Based on the main comparisons, we did not find consistent evidence that H1 AH treatments are effective as 'add-on' therapy for eczema when compared to placebo; evidence for this comparison was of low and moderate quality. However, fexofenadine probably leads to a small improvement in patient-assessed pruritus, with probably no significant difference in the amount of treatment used to prevent eczema flares. Cetirizine was no better than placebo in terms of physician-assessed clinical signs nor patient-assessed symptoms, and we found no evidence that loratadine was more beneficial than placebo, although all interventions seem safe.The quality of evidence was limited because of poor study design and imprecise results. Future researchers should clearly define the condition (course and severity) and clearly report their methods, especially participant selection and randomisation; baseline characteristics; and outcomes (based on the Harmonising Outcome Measures in Eczema initiative).
This Cochrane review highlights two main points: first that, as usual, the quality of the literature surveyed was basically of poor quality, which appears to be the rule rather than the exception over the past 40 years. Second, that negative studies are very useful and important and should always be published, not buried, as in the past.