Eczema is a chronic inflammatory skin condition in which your immune system overreacts to irritants and allergens. Factors like stress, infections, and disrupted sleep can compound inflammatory processes in the body, making eczema worse.

Eczema is a broad term for a group of inflammatory skin conditions that cause irritation, redness, and severe itching. Over 31 million people in the United States have some form of eczema, with atopic dermatitis being the most common.

If you live with eczema, hypersensitivity to irritants and skin barrier dysfunction can result in persistent inflammation. Your immune system overreacts to particles such as allergens and releases pro-inflammatory cytokines, substances responsible for creating the sensation of itching.

The relationship between eczema and inflammation doesn’t end there, however. In some people who have eczema, inflammatory markers can be found systemically in blood and unaffected skin. This suggests other sources of inflammation may also play a role in eczema symptoms.

While there’s currently no cure for eczema, taking steps to reduce inflammation in your body can help improve symptoms or prevent them from worsening.

Sleep is an essential function of the human body. Not getting enough sleep can cause a variety of chronic mental and physical health conditions and may also affect your immune system.

A 2021 review found that lack of sleep can lead to a chronic inflammatory state and increase your risk of infectious and inflammatory conditions.

Getting sleep isn’t always easy when you live with eczema, however.

“In patients with eczema, getting quality sleep can be difficult, as periods of arousal during sleep can trigger reflexive scratching,” Dr. Amy Huang, a board certified dermatologist from New York, New York, explained. “Most people are not aware that they can awaken at least two to six times a night. Getting quality sleep allows the skin to heal and decreases the chance that the eczema sufferer awakens with scratching.”

You can help improve your sleep by:

  • avoiding electronic use before bedtime
  • keeping a consistent sleep schedule
  • avoiding large meals and stimulants like caffeine at night
  • being physically active during the day
  • keeping your bedroom cool, dark, and quiet

When it comes to managing inflammation in your body, getting regular exercise may help. A 2020 review found that physical inactivity is associated with chronic, systemic inflammation that can increase your risk of chronic diseases. Regular exercise may help reduce visceral fat, which can contribute to chronic inflammation.

Maintaining a moderate weight can also help prevent other chronic conditions that contribute to inflammation, such as cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.

Current physical activity guidelines for Americans suggest adults get 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity each week, with 2 days of muscle-strengthening activity.

A calorically dense diet high in processed foods may contribute to inflammation by increasing the risk of chronic conditions such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.

Certain foods, such as ultra-processed items, alcohol, and those with added sugar, may also directly trigger low-grade inflammation in the body.

A well-balanced diet can help you maintain a moderate weight and decrease your exposure to inflammatory foods.

Current dietary guidelines recommend limiting:

  • added sugars
  • added sodium
  • saturated fats
  • trans fats
  • cholesterol

The guidelines also recommend staying within your caloric needs while focusing on:

  • fruits, vegetables, and whole grains
  • fat-free or low fat milk products
  • a variety of proteins from lean meats, seafood, eggs, legumes, soy products, nuts, and seeds

You can take these strategies one step further by including items in your diet that may help reduce inflammation, such as:

  • omega-3 fatty acids
  • probiotics
  • flavonoid antioxidants (colorful fruits and vegetables)
  • spices such as turmeric, ginger, and cinnamon

Fighting infection requires a response from your immune system, which leads to inflammatory processes that may aggravate eczema symptoms.

Eczema may make you more prone to infections, and Huang recommends closely monitoring your skin for early warning signs. “Eczema plaques can occasionally become superinfected with skin bacteria, which can hinder healing,” she explained. “Treating superinfections promptly can decrease wound healing time.”

The sooner you treat an infection, the sooner inflammation from that infection can improve.

You can help reduce your risk for infections by:

  • washing your hands regularly
  • wearing a face mask
  • sanitizing light switches, door handles, and other high-touch areas often
  • avoiding touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands
  • not sharing items like lip gloss or beverage containers
  • resisting the urge to scratch or pick eczema skin

Smoking can negatively affect almost every organ of your body. If you smoke, you expose your cells to thousands of chemicals, of which at least 250 are known to be harmful.

Smoking causes irritation, damage, and injury to tissues, which can result in an inflammatory response.

According to a study from 2022, within 12 weeks of smoking cessation, inflammatory markers in the body significantly decrease, and the risk for certain chronic inflammatory conditions also declines.

If you smoke and want to quit, talk with your doctor about smoking cessation techniques that may help.

Inflammation is a part of your body’s natural stress reaction. When you’re anticipating a challenge or perceiving a threat, your body releases pro-inflammatory chemicals and hormones to prepare you for action.

In the short term, these biochemical processes aren’t harmful. Prolonged stress, however, leads to persistent inflammation, which can cause damage to your cells.

Managing stress before it becomes chronic can be an important part of preventing systemic inflammation.

Stress management techniques include:

  • breathing exercises
  • grounding techniques
  • physical activity, such as taking a walk
  • listening to music
  • engaging in art or creativity
  • mediation
  • counting slowly
  • aromatherapy
  • mind-body arts like yoga

Staying on track with your eczema treatment can help keep symptoms manageable when other inflammatory processes might exacerbate them.

If you’ve been skimping on sleep, for example, keeping up with your current therapies can help prevent an eczema flare-up from becoming unbearable.

“The most important tip is to get evaluated by a board certified dermatologist for prompt treatment,” said Huang. “Dermatologists can prescribe a variety of topical, oral, and injectable medications that can effectively treat anything from mild to severe eczema.”

She recommends applying moisturizer generously, using products for sensitive skin, and avoiding hot showers or baths and frequent scratching.

When you can’t stand the itch, Huang said, “Applying an ice pack wrapped in cloth to stubbornly itchy areas can alleviate itching in many cases.”

Skin that’s hypersensitive to irritants or has a dysfunctional barrier can cause persistent inflammation and a spectrum of skin conditions known as eczema.

Other sources of inflammation, such as chronic stress, infection, and smoking, may exacerbate eczema symptoms by compounding your body’s inflammatory response.

Reducing other sources of inflammation can help you improve your current eczema symptoms and manage the severity of flare-ups.