In recent years considerable interest in the pathogenetic role of aeroallergens exacerbating atopic dermatitis (AD) has emerged. The ‘atopy patch test’ with aeroallergens was introduced by Platts-Mills et al. as an experimental model and as a diagnostic tool. However, its relevance for the clinical manifestation of AD is still not clear.
We asked whether there is a relationship between the individual antigen exposure to the major allergen of Dermatophagoides pteronyssinus (Der p 1) and the immunological markers of sensitization to Der p 1 or the clinical severity of AD.
We investigated 92 patients with moderate to severe AD. For clinical evaluation the SCORAD severity score was used. Patch tests were performed with purified Der p 1. Specific IgE was measured by a commercial assay. Der p 1 exposure was quantified in a sample of the patient's mattress dust by using a commercial ELISA.
No correlation between SCORAD, Der p 1 exposure and RAST could be established. However, there was an unexpected significant inverse correlation between the quantity of mite antigen in the mattress dust and patch test reactivity. Patients with a high antigen load (> 25 μg/g) mostly had a negative patch test. Also, when Der p 1 was correlated to the mattress area (m2) in this group all patch tests were negative. A possible explanation could be that continuous exposure of the skin to house dust mite allergen Der p 1 may induce a down-regulation of the skin immune system of patients with AD.
Although the mechanism of this phenomenon is presently unknown, our study shows that a positive allergen patch test alone should not be an indication to undertake allergen exclusion measures in AD patients.