Eczema Triggers

Knowledge is power: here’s how to treat and minimize eczema flare-ups.

Although what causes eczema, or dermatitis, is still unknown, what we do know is that the condition can be triggered by environmental factors like skin irritants, allergens, microbes, hot or cold temperatures, foods, and stress. Additionally, a change in levels of certain hormones may cause eczema flare‐ups in women.

It’s true, some people are simply more genetically predisposed to eczema. Many doctors think eczema causes are linked to allergic disease, such as hay fever or asthma.

But by knowing the “eczema triggers” below, along with a smart treatment plan, you can reduce the likelihood and/or severity of this painful skin condition that makes daily life uncomfortable and even challenging.

Be prepared — it can help protect your health or that of a loved one.

Irritants

What irritates your skin may be different from what irritates someone else with the condition. But in general, irritants that can make symptoms worse for both atopic and contact dermatitis include:

  • Artificial soaps, detergents, perfumes
  • Cosmetics containing alcohol, perfumes, lanolin, or preservatives
  • Rough clothing (like wool), poor‐fitting clothing, clothing tags
  • Clothing made from synthetic fibers
  • Shampoos, dishwashing liquids
  • Disinfectants like chlorine
  • Tobacco smoke
  • Contact with juices from fresh fruits, meats, vegetables

If you or your child has eczema, use mild detergents with no bleach or fabric softener on clothes, towels and bedding. When shopping, look for a detergent that has a neutral pH and is fragrance‐free. Be careful with other household soaps and cleansers, too — wear rubber gloves if you’re using an item that has an eczema trigger.

Also, it’s best to cut clothing tags and wear loose‐fitting cotton clothes that are washed of dye residue.

Allergens

For those with atopic eczema, the condition develops after you’re exposed to environmental factors like allergens (substances that cause the body to react abnormally).

Some of the most common allergens known to be causes of eczema include:

  • House dust mites
  • Pets (cats > dogs)
  • Pollens (seasonal)
  • Molds
  • Dandruff

Avoiding outdoor activity when pollen counts are high, regular bathing and grooming of pets, and thorough cleaning of your home to reduce dust mites (including washing bed linens and curtains weekly) can limit your exposure to eczema‐triggering allergens.

Hot or cold temperatures

  • Extreme cold or hot weather
  • High and low humidity
  • Perspiration from exercise

To help prevent eczema breakouts in the winter when skin becomes too dry, it’s recommended that you moisturize regularly. Using a humidifier can also help with dry indoor air. In summer months, stay out of the heat and take necessary precautions to avoid sweating and high humidity.

Foods

Our overall health, well being, and many health risks are linked to the foods we eat, and atopic eczema is no exception. It can be caused by food allergens, particularly before age one.

Studies have found that 1/3 to nearly 2/3 of children and young people with this type of eczema also had a food allergy. Food allergies associated with eczema causes are typically:

  • Dairy products
  • Eggs
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Soy products
  • Wheat

Besides allergen triggers like these, though, there’s no scientific evidence that a specific diet/foods can trigger or relieve eczema symptoms.

That said, some studies have indicated that probiotics (available in supplements and certain foods, like yogurt) may help relieve symptoms, particularly in children. Additionally, antioxidant‐rich fruits and vegetables — particularly those rich in Vitamin C — are recommended as part of an overall healthy diet, and they’ve been studied for their potential to reduce eczema symptoms. More research is needed in this area.

Stress

Stress can also be an eczema trigger for some people. However, it’s not fully understood how it affects the condition. Some people with eczema have worse symptoms when they’re stressed.

Understanding how to relieve your stress — whether it’s deep breathing, yoga or other stress‐relief methods — should be an important part of your eczema treatment plan. Also, being prepared and sticking to your treatment plan will help to keep stress under control.