Eczema Causes

Written by the Healthline Editorial Team | Published on July 24, 2014
Medically Reviewed by Kenneth R. Hirsch, MD on July 24, 2014

Eczema Causes

The cause of eczema is not fully understood, but an overactive immune system is likely to be partly responsible. An overactive immune system responds to the presence of irritants that it would normally ignore. Eczema is also caused in part by an abnormal response to proteins that are part of the body.

Under normal conditions, the immune system ignores proteins that are part of the human body. It only attacks proteins from invaders like bacteria and viruses. In the case of eczema, the immune system loses the ability to distinguish between substances that are naturally present and foreign invaders. As a result, inflammation occurs. 

Risk Factors

Certain things can increase the chances that you or your child will develop eczema. The two most common risk factors are asthma or hay fever and family history.

Asthma and Hay Fever

Eczema is more common in children who suffer from asthma and/or hay fever. It is also more common in adults who develop these conditions before the age of 30. (NEA)

Family History

People with family members who have eczema are at an increased risk of developing the disease. Also, if members of your family have had hay fever or asthma, you could be at a greater risk for eczema.

Eczema Triggers

Eczema is characterized by flare-ups, during which one or more symptoms appear on the skin. These flare-ups can be caused by several factors, depending on the type of eczema you have. For example, flare-ups related to contact dermatitis could be caused by a fragrance that you are allergic to, while other types of eczema could be triggered by the weather.

What triggers the flare-ups also differs from person to person.

Household Chemicals

Many household chemicals, such as those found in cleaners and soaps, can dry out the skin and trigger eczema symptoms. Products containing perfumes can be particularly bad for people who suffer from allergen-related contact dermatitis. This type of eczema is part of an allergic reaction.

Sweating or Overheating

A rise in your body temperature and the sweating that follows are common triggers of eczema flare-ups. Usually, dry and cool conditions are best for eczema sufferers. Warm, humid conditions are also breeding grounds for infection because bacteria thrive in higher temperatures.

Sudden Changes in Temperature

Going from a cool building into the hot outdoor air can cause sweating and overheating, triggering eczema symptoms. Also, a sudden drop in humidity can cause the skin to dry out. On the other hand, nummular dermatitis, another type of eczema, is only evident during the winter months.

Certain Fabrics

Certain synthetic fabrics or rough, scratchy material, such as wool, can irritate the skin and cause an eczema flare-up.

Other Eczema Triggers

What causes one person’s eczema to worsen may not affect the next person at all. Additional triggers may include:

  • stress
  • food allergies
  • pet dander
  • upper respiratory infections

The right course of treatment for your eczema will largely depend on what is causing it and what makes it worse. Pay close attention to when your symptoms arise and document the conditions. This will help you make changes to lessen inflammation and potentially stop flare-ups. 

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