What Causes Eczema During Pregnancy and How Is It Treated?

Medically reviewed by Sarah Taylor, MD, FAAD on March 20, 2017Written by Chaunie Brusie, RN, BSN on March 20, 2017

Pregnancy and eczema

Pregnancy can trigger a lot of different changes in the skin for women, including:

  • changes to your skin pigmentation, such as dark spots
  • acne
  • rashes
  • skin sensitivity
  • dry or oily skin
  • pregnancy-induced eczema

Pregnancy hormones may be responsible for many of these changes.

Pregnancy-induced eczema is eczema that occurs during pregnancy in women. These women may or may not have had a history of the condition. It’s also known as:

  • atopic eruption of pregnancy (AEP)
  • prurigo of pregnancy
  • pruritic folliculitis of pregnancy
  • papular dermatitis of pregnancy

Pregnancy-induced eczema is the most common skin condition that occurs during pregnancy. It may account for up to half of all eczema cases. Eczema is thought to be associated with immune function and autoimmune disorders, so if you already have eczema, it can flare up during pregnancy. There is some evidence that AEP may also be associated with asthma and hay fever.

Keep reading to learn more about this condition.

What are the symptoms of eczema?

The symptoms of pregnancy-induced eczema are the same as those of eczema outside of pregnancy. Symptoms include red, rough, itchy bumps that can crop up anywhere on your body. The itchy bumps are often grouped and may have a crust. Sometimes, pustules are visible.

If you have a history of eczema before becoming pregnant, the eczema may worsen during pregnancy. For about one-quarter of women, eczema symptoms improve during pregnancy.

Who gets eczema during pregnancy?

Eczema can occur for the first time during pregnancy. If you’ve had eczema in the past, your pregnancy could trigger a flare-up. It’s estimated that only about 20 to 40 percent of women who experience eczema during pregnancy have a history of eczema before becoming pregnant.

What causes eczema?

Doctors still aren’t completely sure what causes eczema, but environmental and genetic factors are thought to play a role.

Diagnosis of eczema during pregnancy

Most of the time, your doctor will diagnose eczema or AEP simply by looking at your skin. A biopsy may be performed to confirm the diagnosis.

Let your doctor know about any changes you notice during your pregnancy. Your doctor will want to rule out any other conditions that could be causing your skin changes and make sure that your baby isn’t affected.

Your doctor will want to know:

  • when the skin changes began
  • if you’ve changed anything in your routine or lifestyle, including diet, that may contribute to the changes to your skin
  • about your symptoms and how they are impacting your daily life
  • if you’ve noticed anything that makes your symptoms better or worse

Bring along a list of current medications you are taking, and any medications or treatments that you’ve already tried for the eczema.

How is eczema treated during pregnancy?

In most cases, pregnancy-induced eczema can be controlled with moisturizers and ointments. If the eczema is severe enough, your doctor may prescribe a steroid ointment to apply to your skin. Topical steroids appear to be safe during pregnancy, but talk to your doctor about any concerns. They can help you understand your treatment options and associated risks. There is some evidence that UV light therapy may also help clear up the eczema.

Avoid any treatments that involve methotrexate (Trexail, Rasuvo) or psoralen plus ultraviolet A (PUVA) during pregnancy. They can harm the fetus.

You can also take steps to help prevent eczema or stop it from getting worse:

  • Take warm, moderate showers instead of hot showers.
  • Keep your skin hydrated with moisturizers.
  • Apply moisturizer directly after you shower.
  • Wear loose-fitting clothing that won’t irritate your skin. Choose clothing made from natural products, like cotton. Wool and hemp clothing may cause additional irritation to your skin.
  • Avoid harsh soaps or body cleaners.
  • If you live in a dry climate, consider using a humidifier in your home. Heaters can also dry out the air in your home.
  • Drink water throughout the day. It’s beneficial not only to your health and the health of your baby, but also to your skin.

Learn more: Home treatments and prevention for eczema »

What’s your outlook?

Eczema during pregnancy is generally not dangerous to the mother or the baby. In most cases, the eczema should clear up after pregnancy. Sometimes, the eczema can continue even after the pregnancy, however. You may also be at increased risk for developing eczema during any future pregnancies.

Eczema isn’t associated with any problems with fertility and won’t cause any long-term complications for you or your baby.

Q&A: Eczema and breastfeeding

Q:

Can I use the same treatment methods while breastfeeding that I used during pregnancy?

A:

Yes, you should be able to use the same moisturizers and even topical steroid creams while breastfeeding. If you require steroid creams over wide areas of your body, you should check with your physician first. However, in most cases, breastfeeding is compatible with eczema treatments.

Sarah Taylor, MD, FAADAnswers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.
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