Eczema is a skin condition that causes itchy and inflamed patches of skin. It often occurs in children, but it can also affect teens and adults.

The term “eczema” actually refers to a few different skin conditions.

The most common one is atopic dermatitis. Another type of eczema is contact dermatitis, which is sometimes referred to as allergic eczema.

The causes of eczema aren’t fully understood.

Genetics likely play a role. Eczema is thought to be related to complications with the skin barrier. Plus, the condition may involve an overactive immune system. This means your immune system responds inappropriately when exposed to certain irritants.

Common triggers of eczema flare-ups include:

  • synthetic fabrics
  • chemicals, such as those used in detergents
  • temperature changes
  • dry weather
  • stress
  • food allergies
  • animal dander

Since eczema involves the immune system and can be triggered by common allergens, it often begs the question: Are allergies and eczema related?

Yes, eczema and allergies are related. However, allergy plays a role in eczema only for some people.

Research from 2014 suggests that 20 to 80 percent of children with eczema (atopic dermatitis) also have food allergies, such as an allergy to peanuts, cow’s milk, or eggs.

In a 2013 study, eczema was associated with a higher occurrence of allergic rhinitis (hay fever) and almost a five times higher prevalence (actual occurrence) of food allergies in children.

According to other research from 2001, about 50 percent of children with severe eczema will go on to develop asthma, and 75 percent will develop allergic rhinitis later in life. This progression from eczema to allergies and asthma is referred to as the “atopic march.”

Another type of eczema, known as contact dermatitis or allergic eczema, happens when an allergen touches your skin.

Research from 2019 suggests that people with atopic dermatitis are at a higher risk of also developing allergic eczema.

While allergies and eczema are related, it’s important to understand that eczema isn’t caused by any type of allergy.

The exact cause of eczema isn’t fully understood, but research from 2017 suggests that people with eczema may have a genetic mutation that results in a damaged skin barrier. Complications with the skin barrier can make your skin more sensitive to allergens, bacteria, and other irritants.

Eczema is also thought to involve an overactive immune system. This means your immune system responds inappropriately when exposed to irritants.

Although allergies don’t cause eczema, they can trigger eczema for some people. These allergens are known to trigger the symptoms of atopic dermatitis in some people:

  • food, such as cow’s milk, gluten, soy, nuts, fish, shellfish, and eggs
  • pet dander
  • dust mites
  • grass, tree, or ragweed pollen (hay fever)
  • mold

Other factors might cause a flare up of eczema, too. These include:

  • infections
  • chemical irritants
  • scratchy fabric
  • stress
  • dry skin
  • extreme temperatures

Contact dermatitis (allergic eczema) can happen when a particular allergen touches your skin. The reaction often occurs 48 to 72 hours after making contact with the allergen.

Examples of substances that can trigger contact dermatitis include:

  • antibacterial ointments, including neomycin
  • metals, such as chromium and nickel
  • poison ivy or poison oak
  • preservatives, such as formaldehyde and sulfites
  • tattoo ink and other dyes
  • rubber products, such as latex
  • harsh soaps or detergents
  • fragrances
  • sunscreens

Allergies to foods as well as seasonal allergies (hay fever) can cause a flare-up of eczema for some people. Allergies to mold, dust mites, and pet dander can also cause eczema to flare up.

If you have any allergies to these substances, they may trigger the inflammatory response that can make your eczema symptoms worse.

It’s important to know, however, that eczema is different for everyone. Just because you have an allergy to a particular food or substance doesn’t necessarily mean that allergy will cause a flare-up of eczema.

Allergic eczema (contact dermatitis) is often treated with emollient creams or anti-inflammatory medications, such as steroids applied directly to your skin (topically).

One of the best ways to get rid of allergic eczema is to avoid triggers such as harsh soaps, detergents, fragrances, and non-breathable fabrics like nylon.

If you have allergic eczema, you may want to use fragrance-free moisturizing ointments daily to keep your skin hydrated. In fact, according to the National Eczema Association, one of the most important ways you can treat mild atopic dermatitis is by moisturizing frequently with an ointment or cream to prevent dry skin.

For moderate-to-severe cases, a doctor can prescribe topical steroids, antihistamines, or even injectable medications that help keep your body’s immune system reaction at bay.

An injectable medication known as dupilumab (Dupixent), however, is recommended only for people with eczema that isn’t well-controlled by topical medications.

Making changes to your diet to avoid triggers can also help.

If you or your child is diagnosed with eczema, it may be a good idea to also meet with an allergist. An allergist can help identify which foods, if any, to eliminate from your or your child’s diet.

Eczema and allergies are related, but most types of eczema aren’t caused by allergies. For atopic dermatitis, allergens may be just one of the triggers, along with dry skin, irritants, infections, stress, and other factors.

People with eczema may have a damaged skin barrier, which makes their skin dry and more sensitive to allergens, bacteria, and irritants.

The best way to control eczema is to moisturize your skin. If you do have allergies, avoiding whatever it is that you’re allergic to could also help prevent eczema flare ups.