A team of researchers believe they’re one step closer to figuring out what triggers eczema, a group of painful skin conditions.

In a paper, published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, scientists discuss how a key skin protein barrier called filaggrin acts on other proteins, which ultimately drives the development of eczema.

Read: Eczema Skin Disorder 2017: Transplanting 'Good' Bacteria To Kill Staph

Their findings have lead them to identify possible targets for future medications that treat the cause of the disorder, rather than its symptoms.

Research from several years ago by scientists at the University of Dundee found that a lack of filaggrin in the skin leads to a different skin condition known as ichthyosis vulgaris, which is strongly linked to atopic eczema.

“We have shown for the first time that loss of the filaggrin protein alone is sufficient to alter key proteins and pathways involved in triggering eczema,” said lead investigator of the study Nick Reynolds, in a press release. “This research reinforces the importance of filaggrin deficiency leading to problems with the barrier function in the skin and predisposing someone to eczema.”

To mimic the skin observed in patients with atopic eczema, the researchers created a human model system in the laboratory. They used molecular techniques on the model to make the outermost layer of the skin filaggrin-deficient.

They then studied a number of regulatory mechanisms affected by the protein, which control various functions, such as stress responses.

“This latest research from Newcastle is crucial as it expands on our knowledge of how filaggrin impacts on other proteins and pathways in the skin, which in turn trigger the disease,” said Nina Goad of the British Association of Dermatologists. “This type of research allows scientists to develop treatments that target the actual root cause of the disease, rather than just managing its symptoms. Given the level of suffering eczema causes, this is a pivotal piece of research.”

The term eczema refers to a group of conditions that cause inflamed, irritated skin. The most common type is atopic eczema. It’s a chronic condition that most often begins before age five, and tends to come and go, causing inflammation. Symptoms vary widely from person to person, but can include severe itching, red to brownish-gray patches of skin, raised bumps, and scaly skin.

Many people with the condition need to try various treatments to figure out what works best for their specific symptoms. There are different types of medications available that help control itching and inflammation, help repair skin, and fight infection. There’s also therapies such as wet dressing, light therapy, stress treatments, and behavior modification or biofeedback to help reduce habitual scratching. To reduce itching and soothe inflamed skin, Mayo Clinic recommends an extensive list of self-care measures, such as taking a bleach bath, moisturizing your skin at least twice a day, wearing smooth-textured cotton clothing, and using a humidifier.

See also: Eczema Home Remedies: 6 Natural Treatments To Alleviate Red, Itchy Skin

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