Interferon Therapy For Eczema

  • Pranjal Yeole BSc in Biological Sciences, University of Warwick

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This article will introduce interferon therapy and its use in managing severe eczema. We will explain what interferons are, and why they are useful in treatment. We will also cover how interferon therapy can be used to manage severe eczema. 

Definition of eczema

Eczema, otherwise known as atopic eczema or atopic dermatitis, refers to a condition which causes your skin to become cracked, itchy, and dry.1  

Eczema usually develops in young children (before their first birthday), but may also develop later in life as an adult. It is a long-term condition, although it may improve in children as they get older.1 

Eczema can appear on any part of the body. It is most commonly seen in children on the elbows, knees, face and scalp.1 In adults, it is most commonly seen on the hands. The condition often occurs in ‘flare-ups’, meaning for a while it appears to improve before getting worse again.1

Brief overview of current treatments

Eczema is initially treated with self-care measures, including preventing scratching of the affected areas and avoiding triggers. Your healthcare professional may also recommend emollients, such as creams, for daily application.1

If these fail to work, you may be prescribed corticosteroids and in more severe cases, immunosuppressants.1,2 These work to reduce the inflammation seen during ‘flare-ups’ by reducing the pain, swelling and redness.1 

However, there is no cure for eczema. New treatments such as interferon therapy aim to treat severe eczema in a specific group of patients. 

Introduction to interferon therapy

Many individuals diagnosed with eczema are shown to have abnormalities in their immune system function. The immune system works to fight infections and mediate inflammation in the body, so this dysfunction is thought to contribute to the cause of eczema.3  

Interferon therapy aims to correct the dysfunction observed in the immune system and help to improve the symptoms of severe eczema.3  

Understanding interferons

This section will explain what interferons are and how they work in therapy. 

What are interferons?

Your immune system works by producing signalling molecules, known as cytokines, to help fight infection, manage inflammation, and correct disease. Interferons are one example of a cytokine.4 

Role of interferons in the immune system

Interferons have various roles in the immune system. These include but are not limited to:4  

  • Helping to fight viral infections
  • Coordinating signalling pathways
  • Activating immune cells 

Types of interferons used in therapy

Different types of interferons exist, including interferon alpha, beta, and gamma. These can be split into type 1 and 2 interferons:4 

  • Type 1 interferons include interferons alpha and beta
  • Type 2 interferons include interferon gamma

Each type of interferon may be used in the management of different conditions. For severe eczema, the use of a type 2 interferon, interferon-gamma (IFN-𝛾), has been explored and shown efficacy.2 On the other hand, interferon-alpha (type 1 interferon) is ineffective in the management of eczema.5   

How interferon therapy works for eczema

Mechanism of action

Patients with eczema often have an imbalance in the immune system which predisposes them to an allergic response. In children with eczema, this can be seen through a reduced production of IFN-𝛾 from their immune cells.6 The IFN-𝛾 pathway has also been shown to play a role in the development of severe complications and infections from eczema.2

Interferon therapy works by replacing the IFN-𝛾 which is not made naturally by the immune system in children, and some adults, with eczema. Therefore, this restores the immune imbalance and helps to reduce eczema symptoms.2 

Potential benefits of interferon therapy

Administration of interferon therapy has several potential benefits in patients with severe eczema. Below are some examples of potential benefits:2,7 

  • Reduction of itching, redness, and irritation 
  • Reduction of the allergic response 
  • Improved sleep 
  • Improvement of eczema severity

Effectiveness and safety

Clinical studies and research findings

Several clinical trials have explored the use of IFN-𝛾 therapy in severe eczema. 

The first study was published in 1990 and investigated adult and child patients with severe eczema. They found that patients had improved the severity of their eczema when treated with IFN-𝛾 therapy.8  Another study looking at adults and children with severe eczema found that patients treated with IFN-𝛾 therapy had reduced itching, redness and irritation compared to patients treated with a placebo. However, the response was better in children than in adults.7 A further set of trials confirmed clinical improvement in patients with severe eczema treated with IFN-𝛾 therapy, including improved sleep, reduction of skin pigmentation and reduction of the allergic response.2 

Common side effects 

Whilst IFN-𝛾 therapy in severe eczema has shown some benefit the treatment does come along with side effects. These include:2 

  • Flu-like symptoms, such as headache, muscle ache, fever, nausea, and discomfort
  • Suppression of the immune system which may make you susceptible to infections 

Flu-like symptoms can be managed with regular paracetamol.3 Do speak to your healthcare professional if you are concerned about any of these side effects. 

Interferon therapy process

Administration methods

INF-𝛾 therapy is usually given as a subcutaneous injection for patients with severe eczema. This involves a small needle which you use to inject the treatment just under the skin.3 

It is only given to patients with severe eczema who have tried alternative treatments first.9 Currently, it is not available for treatment in the UK.10 

Monitoring progress and response to therapy

To monitor your response to IFN-𝛾 therapy, your healthcare professional may measure the levels of a molecule in your blood called immunoglobulin E (IgE). They will also measure the clinical severity and look at the symptoms of your eczema.3

Integrating interferon therapy into eczema management

Who can benefit from interferon therapy?

INF-𝛾 therapy is only given to patients with severe eczema who have not responded to other lines of management.9 It is not available for treatment in the UK as it is not a cost-effective method of treatment.10

Combining with other treatments

Your healthcare professional will advise you on how to combine IFN-𝛾 therapy with other treatments. Care of the skin with emollients and lotions will be recommended and you will be advised to avoid any triggering factors. You may receive other therapies such as corticosteroids.3 

Lifestyle adjustments and self-care practices

In eczema, it is really important to regularly apply emollients to soothe and keep your skin in good condition. It is also important to avoid scratching the affected areas and coming into contact with any triggers.10 


Eczema is a long-term condition that causes the skin to become dry, irritated, and itchy. It is usually treated with emollients and self-care practices, however, you may also be prescribed corticosteroids or immunosuppressants. Interferon treatment, with IFN-𝛾, has shown some success in improving the severity of severe eczema and reducing the allergic response. However, IFN-𝛾 therapy is not available currently for the treatment of eczema in the UK. 


What is the latest cure for eczema? 

In severe eczema, a new treatment called dupilumab (Dupixent), has been developed. This is a type of monoclonal antibody to modulate the response of the immune system. Further information on dupilumab can be found in the National Eczema Society

What is the ‘root’ cause of eczema? 

There is not one single cause for eczema. It has a genetic component, where it can be traced in families.1 However, several lifestyle factors may also trigger your eczema. These include: 

  • Allergens in the environment
  • Irritants in soaps and detergents
  • Food allergies
  • Fabrics 
  • Skin infections
  • Hormones 

The NHS provides a detailed breakdown of the triggers of eczema

Does eczema get worse with age? 

Usually, eczema presents in early childhood. It often improves with time and increasing age, however, it can also present for the first time in adulthood.1 


  1. Nemeth V, Evans J. Eczema. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2024 [cited 2024 Feb 24]. Available from:
  2. Brar K, Leung DYM. Recent Considerations in the Use of Recombinant Interferon Gamma for Biological Therapy of Atopic Dermatitis. Expert Opin Biol Ther [Internet]. 2016 [cited 2024 Feb 27]; 16(4):507–14. Available from:
  3. Chang TT, Stevens SR. Atopic Dermatitis. Am J Clin Dermatol [Internet]. 2002 [cited 2024 Feb 24]; 3(3):175–83. Available from:
  4. Khanna NR, Gerriets V. Interferon. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2024 [cited 2024 Feb 24]. Available from:
  5. Cremer B, Kohlmus C, Czarnetzki BM. Topical interferon alpha in atopic eczema. Acad Dermatol Venereol [Internet]. 1995 [cited 2024 Feb 27]; 5(2):153–6. Available from:
  6. Czarnowicki T, Gonzalez J, Shemer A, Malajian D, Xu H, Zheng X, et al. Severe atopic dermatitis is characterized by selective expansion of circulating TH2/TC2 and TH22/TC22, but not TH17/TC17, cells within the skin-homing T-cell population. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2015; 136(1):104-115.e7. Available from:
  7. Hanifin JM, Schneider LC, Leung DY, Ellis CN, Jaffe HS, Izu AE, et al. Recombinant interferon gamma therapy for atopic dermatitis. J Am Acad Dermatol. 1993; 28(2 Pt 1):189–97. Available from:
  8. Boguniewicz M, Jaffe HS, Izu A, Sullivan MJ, York D, Geha RS, et al. Recombinant gamma interferon in treatment of patients with atopic dermatitis and elevated IgE levels. Am J Med. 1990; 88(4):365–70. Available from:
  9. Azizan N, Ambrose D, Sabeera B, Mohsin S, PF W, Mohd Affandi A, et al. Management of Atopic Eczema in primary care. Malays Fam Physician [Internet]. 2020 [cited 2024 Feb 27]; 15(1):39–43. Available from:
  10. Scenario: Severe eczema. NICE [Internet]. 2023 [cited 2024 Feb 27]. Available from:

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This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

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Taylor Fulton Ward

BMedSc Clinical Sciences, First Class Honours, 2021

Taylor is a final year Cancer Research UK PhD Student at the University of Birmingham, UK. She has several years of experience within academic writing and has published on a range of topics, including medical education, cancer genomics and immunology. Her academic interests lie within immunology, oncology and haematology and her PhD has interrogated the hypoxia-mediated dysfunction of CD8+ T cells in Multiple Myeloma. She is now embarking on her career in medical writing.

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