Eczema is one of the most common chronic skin conditions, impacting more than 30 million people in the U.S. according to the National Eczema Association. While this condition is common, it can still be difficult to pinpoint the underlying causes of flare-ups, so it’s essential for people with eczema to familiarize themselves with common triggers. According to Dr. Megan Lent of U.S. Dermatology Partners in Chillicothe, Missouri, “Every person will have their own, unique eczema triggers. Your dermatologist can help you track your symptoms and flare-ups to determine which products and environmental factors may be causing problems. In most cases, this will start with discussing common triggers and any experience you have with flare-ups caused by these things.” Keep reading to learn more about common eczema triggers and flare-up symptoms you should be aware of.
What Causes Eczema?
There is not one underlying cause of eczema. However, Dr. Lent explains, “While a specific cause isn’t always clear, most cases of eczema are genetic, meaning if one or more of your family members have eczema, you’re more likely to develop this condition as well. While the underlying cause may vary, eczema flare-ups occur because the skin’s protective barrier is weakened. When allergens and irritants are able to penetrate into the deeper layers of skin, it causes irritation and inflammation.”
There are different types of eczema, and each type has specific, underlying causes and triggers. To better understand possible triggers for eczema flare-ups, you need to first pinpoint which type of eczema you have. The most common types of eczema include:
- Atopic dermatitis – This is the most common form of eczema, and it’s what people are usually referring to when they talk about eczema. This condition causes skin redness, itching, and inflammation. These symptoms can impact any part of the body, but they are most likely to appear on the face, arms, and legs. Many people first develop atopic dermatitis as children, and these people may grow out of this type of eczema. Some will deal with flare-ups throughout their lives.
- Contact dermatitis – This form of eczema develops as a direct response to the skin’s exposure to allergens, irritants, chemicals, toxins, and even sunlight. Friction from repeated rubbing can also lead to symptoms of contact dermatitis. These symptoms are similar to atopic dermatitis, but they are localized to the exposed parts of the skin rather than impacting larger areas.
- Seborrheic dermatitis – This form of eczema is most common in infants. You may have heard it referred to as cradle cap. Adults can also develop seborrheic dermatitis. The name of this form of eczema refers to the sebaceous glands, which produce oil. This form of eczema typically impacts the parts of the skin where sebaceous glands are concentrated, including the scalp, face, neck, and back. The main symptom of this form of eczema is dry flaking skin paired with oiliness.
- Stasis dermatitis – This form of eczema is very rare. It’s linked to poor circulation that causes fluid to build up in poorly functioning veins before it leaks beneath the skin, causing symptoms like swelling, pain, itching, and redness. These symptoms most commonly occur on the lower legs.
- Dyshidrotic eczema – This form of eczema is significantly more common in women than in men. The symptoms are similar to those of other forms so eczema, but dyshidrotic eczema typically only impacts the hands and feet. Additionally, flare-ups in this form of eczema often appear during the spring allergy season.
- Nummular eczema – While most eczema is genetically inherited, nummular eczema doesn’t appear to be shared between family members. In fact, there’s no specific underlying cause of nummular eczema. It can also be difficult to diagnose this form of eczema because the symptoms vary from person to person. The main similarity between cases of nummular eczema is the coin-shaped rash that develops when the skin is affected.
What Are the Common Eczema Triggers?
When it comes to eczema triggers, Dr. Lent says, “Pinpointing your specific symptom triggers is an essential part of eczema management. To determine triggers for eczema flare-ups, patients may want to track symptoms. If patients notice an increase in symptoms, they should note their daily activities, including foods and drinks they’ve consumed, skincare products and cosmetics used, and any activities that may have triggered the flare-up. By tracking flare-ups over several months, patients can start to see common factors and avoid or limit exposure to the items that seem to frequently accompany symptom flare-ups.”
While tracking your specific symptoms is important, some common eczema triggers to be aware of include:
- Pet fur and dander
- Chemicals in cleaners, skincare products, cosmetics, and perfumes
- Dry weather, humid climate, and changing temperature and/or humidity
- Changing diet
- Smoke from fires, tobacco, or other sources
- Environmental allergens like poison oak, ivy, and sumac or things like latex
- Food allergies
- Untreated or prolonged infections
- Changes in hormone levels
- Consuming certain foods (the specific foods will vary from person to person)
- Elevated stress levels especially over prolonged periods of time
- Sweating without proper hygiene or when wearing clothes that trap moisture against the skin
- Clothes or linens made from fabrics that are irritating to the skin
- Dehydration of the skin and/or the whole body
Can I Prevent Eczema Flare-ups?
According to Dr. Lent, “Prevention is essential for people with eczema. There are some treatments to soothe symptoms during an active flare-up, but it’s always best to minimize the number and severity of flare-ups by taking preventive steps.” Some recommended ways to prevent eczema flare-ups include:
- Update your skincare routine – Make sure you’re using skincare products and cosmetics formulated for sensitive skin without dyes, fragrances, and other potentially irritating ingredients.
- Keep skin hydrated – Moisturizing skin is essential to prevent eczema flare-ups and soothe skin during a flare-up. The ALASTIN Skincare Ultra Nourishing Moisturizer with TriHex Technology is an ideal option. It infuses skin with moisture and heals the skin’s natural, protective barrier.
- Choose gentle household cleaners – Make sure your laundry detergents and other household cleaners are formulated for people with allergies or sensitive skin. Look for products that are free of fragrance and dyes.
- Take shorter showers – Use cooler water and spend less time in the shower or bath. Hot water strips moisture from the skin, leading to eczema flare-ups. You should also moisturize your skin immediately after showering.
- Change fabrics – Your clothing, towels, sheets, and blankets can rub against the skin, causing friction and irritation. Wear clothing made of light, more breathable fabrics to minimize symptoms. Choose sheets, blankets, towels, and other linens made from soft materials.
Should I Create an Eczema Treatment Plan with a Dermatologist?
Those who struggle with chronic skin conditions, like eczema, should always partner with a local dermatologist to develop a skincare routine to keep their skin looking and feeling its best. If you’re in need of a dermatologist to help you develop your skincare routine and prevent eczema flare-ups, the team at U.S. Dermatology Partners would love to hear from you. Getting started is quick and easy. Simply take a few moments to complete our online scheduling request form. Once we hear from you, a team member will be in touch to finalize the details of your visit.
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