– Recent research is offering new insights into psoriasis and alopecia in the pediatric population, a dermatologist told colleagues, and it’s time to be on the lookout for psoriasis linked to treatment with tumor necrosis factor (TNF) inhibitors.

Dr. Lawrence F. Eichenfield is the vice chair of the department of dermatology and a professor of dermatology and pediatrics at the University of California, San Diego

Dr. Lawrence F. Eichenfield

Lawrence F. Eichenfield, MD, professor of dermatology and pediatrics, at the University of California, San Diego, offered these tips and comments in a presentation at Skin Disease Education Foundation’s annual Las Vegas Dermatology Seminar:


It’s a brand new day for adult psoriasis sufferers, but it seems to be only a brand new morning for their pediatric counterparts. “Kids and teenagers were left behind in the biologic revolution,” Dr. Eichenfield said. “Only two systemic biologics have been approved for psoriasis in children.” They are ustekinumab (Stelara), approved by the Food and Drug Administration for treating psoriasis in children aged 12 years and older, and etanercept, approved for aged 4 years and older.

The good news, he said, is that “our new biologic agents are now being studied in children.”

Research is also providing new insight into pediatric psoriasis, said Dr. Eichenfield, who is also chief of pediatric and adolescent dermatology at Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego. It’s now clear that “there’s a lot more facial involvement, and a high involvement of scalp and nail,” he noted.

It’s also clear, he said, that inflammation begins early in pediatric psoriasis. That raises the question of whether it’s a good idea to launch aggressive treatment to stop the “psoriatic march” toward cardiovascular and other medical problems down the line, he commented.

“Keep an open mind to getting aggressive in therapy,” he advised, although he acknowledged that “it’s hard to get beyond the two biologics, and only one is approved for children under 12.”

Dr. Eichenfield advised colleagues to keep an eye out for TNF inhibitor–induced psoriasis. “We’re seeing it pretty regularly,” he said, commonly in children who are treated with TNF inhibitors for rheumatoid arthritis or Crohn’s disease.

The lesions “look like dermatitis but are very psoriasiform,” he said, and research suggests this can appear after a single dose or after as many as 63 months of treatment. Topical and light therapy can be helpful. But if those treatments do not help, he said, it’s time to consider changing the biologic that the patient is taking. “Is the biologic adequately controlling their underlying disease? If not, you can help find one that would be great for their underlying disease and clear up their psoriasis.”


Pediatric alopecia “is a problem I see pretty regularly in practice,” Dr. Eichenfield said. When he sees patients with alopecia, he says that, “‘if your child doesn’t have 50% hair loss, you’re in the good group. It will generally heal up and never come back again.’ ”

He referred to a recent study, where investigators at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia retrospectively studied 125 children under age 4 years who were diagnosed with alopecia areata and followed for 2 years. Over time, those children with over 50% of hair loss initially were more likely to have worsening Severity of Alopecia Tool (SALT) scores over the follow-up period. But a high proportion of those with mild alopecia initially continued to have mild alopecia at follow-up (Pediatr Dermatol. 2019 Aug 29. doi: 10.1111/pde.13990).

Dr. Eichenfield noted that the study found that 41% of the patients also had atopic dermatitis.

He also highlighted two other recent studies on pediatric alopecia: One found that while vitamin D levels were low in a majority of children with alopecia in the study, the proportion who had a deficiency was similar to the proportion in a larger pediatric population, at about 22% in both groups (J Am Acad Dermatol. 2018 Sep;79(3):e43-e44). Supplementation doesn’t seem to help. “It’s not important to test levels,” he said.

Another study examined whether it’s a good idea to test patients for celiac disease in children with alopecia (Pediatr Dermatol. 2018 Jul;35[4]:535-8). Some parents may ask this question, but the answer, he said, is generally no.

What’s next? “We were hoping oral and topical JAK inhibitors would work well” in this population, Dr. Eichenfield said, but study findings haven’t been promising.

Still, oral tofacitinib (Xeljanz) showed some “pretty impressive” success in a recent study in four children, he noted. Based on the results, the authors wrote that “we suggest that, after proper counseling regarding the risks, including severe infection and malignancy, the use of tofacitinib may be considered for preadolescent children with AA [alopecia areata] who are experiencing psychosocial impairment” (J Am Acad Dermatol. 2019 Feb;80[2]:568-70).

In general, Dr. Eichenfield said, research on pediatric alopecia “will be secondary, especially with JAK inhibitors because of the risk of side effects. But [children will] probably tolerate them better than adults do because they have fewer medical problems.”

Meanwhile, he added, controversy continues to swirl around how to treat children over age 10 years who have lost 50% or more of their hair. “I’ve seen hundreds of kids with alopecia areata,” he said, “and I can’t predict what the course may be.”

Dr. Eichenfield reports multiple relationships (consultant or investigator) with various pharmaceutical companies, including Abbvie, Allergan, Lilly, Novartis, and others. SDEF and this news organization are owned by the same parent company.