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Skin provocation tests may help to diagnose atopic dermatitis


  • Edited by: Werner Aberer



Atopic dermatitis (AD) is a common skin disorder. Its diagnosis relies on clinical judgment. Mild and untypical manifestations may cause diagnostic difficulties. Biomarkers for the differential diagnostic workup of AD are needed.


To test whether the results of skin provocation with cowhage, an established model of histamine-independent pruritus, and histamine are different in AD patients and healthy subjects and whether these tests may be used as diagnostic markers of AD.


Twenty-two AD patients and 18 healthy controls were subjected to topical cowhage provocation and skin prick testing with histamine and assessed for differences in the quality, intensity, and persistence of itch, for wheal diameter, volume, and flare size and intensity.


Patients with AD, compared with healthy controls, exhibited significantly smaller histamine-induced flares (P < 0.01) and markedly longer itch persistence after provocation with cowhage (P < 0.01). Both parameters showed good diagnostic properties for AD (area under the receiver operating characteristic (ROC) curve 0.78 and 0.80, respectively). The persistence of cowhage-induced itch for at least 30 min and a histamine-induced flare of less than 2 cm in diameter were reliable thresholds for the diagnosis of AD. If combinations of the results of both tests were used, their sensitivity and specificity of diagnosing AD were up to 91% and 94%, respectively.


The clinical benefit of cowhage and histamine skin provocation tests should be investigated in further studies. Long persistence of cowhage-induced itch and diminished histamine-induced flare in nonlesional skin may support diagnosis of AD.