Common eczema triggers can include skin products, diet, and hormones. You may be able to reduce flare-ups with preventive measures like keeping your skin moisturized.

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Eczema is a skin disease that can induce redness, itchiness, dryness, and inflammation of the skin. While the root cause of eczema isn’t fully understood, identifying and avoiding potential triggers is one way to manage flare-ups.

Mild to moderate eczema may respond well to over-the-counter (OTC) topical creams. If you have severe eczema, you may need to take additional measures to limit exposure to certain triggers. You may also need a prescription treatment by a dermatologist.

Read on to learn more about eczema triggers and flare-ups and how you can work with your own body to ease the symptoms.

Skin barrier defects play a significant role in the development of eczema. This causes inflammation, and a flare-up is the physical manifestation of that inflammation.

While eczema triggers can be very personal, the symptoms of flare-ups tend to be similar. They include:

  • a red, itchy rash
  • itchy skin that oozes, “weeps” fluid, or even bleeds when scratched
  • dry, discolored skin
  • sleep disturbances caused by itchiness

The exact causes of your skin inflammation may not be the same as someone else who is also living with eczema, but there are some common triggers that most people with eczema should look out for:

When your skin becomes too dry, it can feel tight, rough, or even scaly, and can increase the chance of having an eczema flare. You may also end up scratching dry skin, causing more skin irritation.

Keeping your skin well moisturized, especially in the winter or dry climates, is one way to combat dry skin.

Emotional stress and anxiety don’t cause eczema, but they can provoke symptoms.

The body releases a hormone called cortisol when it’s under stress. When too much cortisol is released due to chronic or severe stress, it can dysregulate the immune system and cause an inflammatory response in the skin.

Dyshidrotic eczema is a specific type of eczema that commonly manifests as small, intensely itchy blisters on the hands, as well as feet. Dyshidrotic eczema may be triggered by stress.

If you’re having difficulty controlling anxiety or stress, talk with your doctor about ways to manage it on your own or with the help of therapy or medication.

Cold weather, hot weather, dry weather, “in-between” weather when the seasons are changing — almost any kind of weather change can affect your eczema.

It isn’t quite clear why changes in the weather can act as eczema triggers, but certain aspects of the seasons, like humidity and extreme cold, can affect anyone’s skin, whether they have eczema or not.

Noticing what kind of weather affects your skin the most can help you figure out how to manage flare-ups. If cold, dry weather does it, do your best to stay as moisturized as possible in the winter. If hot, humid weather does it, try to maintain an even body temperature and lessen sweat by wearing loose, cotton clothing and staying hydrated.

Food allergies, such as allergies to milk, eggs, peanuts, and wheat, have been identified as eczema triggers in some individuals, especially children.

Similarly, you might experience an eczema flare-up after you consume foods and ingredients that are known to be inflammatory. Examples include added sugars (think: soda), refined carbohydrates (think: pastries), and gluten (think: white bread).

If you’ve been noticing a connection between eczema flares and certain foods, talk with your doctor and a certified dietician to see whether eliminating those foods for a period of time might help.

Like many laundry detergents, scented products you apply to the body can also worsen eczema. Some people with eczema also have contact dermatitis, which is when rashes occur after contact with a substance.

Scented soaps, lotions, perfumes, shower gels, and other personal care items can irritate the skin in some people and trigger a flare.

If you believe your skin is sensitive to certain personal care products, look for hypoallergenic, scent-free brands. Closely monitor your symptoms after starting a new product. If your symptoms worsen, discontinue use.

Sometimes, it’s not just the detergent or scented product that causes an eczema flare but the actual fabrics you’re wearing. Many people are sensitive to materials like polyester or wool, which can trigger itchiness and redness.

Avoid wearing any clothes that appear to worsen your condition, or wear an extra layer under the garment to protect your skin.

While physical activity is an essential part of a healthy lifestyle, if you live with eczema, it’s possible that sweating a lot could trigger a flare.

If you notice eczema flares after exercising, lower the intensity of your workout or choose a cooler time of day to complete workout sessions.

Keep a fan nearby (if possible), blot your sweat as often as you can with a towel, and always take a shower immediately after completing your workout. Take care not to wipe harshly, as this can further aggravate eczema-prone skin.

Hormonal changes can be eczema triggers. Researchers think this is partly due to a drop in estrogen, which can occur during menopause and after ovulation.

While hormonal fluctuations are completely normal, if you notice a connection between periods of your cycle and eczema flare-ups, consult with your doctor about solutions that may provide relief.

Eczema is common in babies and children, so it’s important to protect their delicate skin. Eczema patches can develop around the cheeks and chin of a drooling baby.

Saliva or drooling doesn’t cause eczema, but it can dry out a baby’s skin and cause itchy, red spots. To avoid this, apply lotions or creams that are safe for sensitive skin, such as petroleum jelly.

Products we use every day can contain ingredients that may irritate your skin.

Some other common eczema triggers include:

  • cigarette smoke
  • metals (like nickel)
  • certain antibacterial topicals
  • dust or dust mites
  • materials like latex
  • viral illness like Covid-19
  • bacteria on the skin, such as Staphylococcus.

While there’s no medication currently available that cures eczema, there are a few ways to prevent and treat flares.

First, knowing your personal eczema triggers can help you make informed choices about diet and activities. Keeping a journal may help you connect certain foods, weather, products, or activities to flares.

Moisturizing your skin as much as possible can also help, as can bathing after exercising or other high energy activities.

Since triggers are so personal, the type of flare management that works best for you will also be personal and may include some trial and error. You may incorporating both lifestyle changes and other medical treatments prescribed by your doctor.

If lifestyle changes or avoiding known triggers isn’t enough to reduce your eczema flare-ups, some medical treatment options include:

  • OTC medications like antihistamines
  • prescription topicals (medications applied to the skin to manage symptoms and ease inflammation)
  • biologics (the one for eczema is typically given via subcutaneous injection, treating inflammation at the immune system level)
  • oral immunosuppressants (which ease the symptoms of eczema by suppressing the entire immune system)
  • light therapy

What causes eczema flare-ups in adults vs. children?

Both adults and children can experience the same triggers for flare-ups, and this can vary from person to person. That said, there can be some differences. For example, according to research, emotional factors such as stress may be bigger triggers for adults than children.

Can I cure eczema permanently?

There’s no cure for eczema, and it’s a chronic condition. However, it’s possible to manage the symptoms and reduce flare-ups.

How long does it take for eczema flare-ups to clear?

In most cases, an eczema flare-up should clear within a few days to a week. If not, you’re either still being exposed to a trigger, or you may need stronger medication.

What causes eczema flare-ups on the face?

Many of the same triggers that may cause flare-ups anywhere on the body can trigger flare-ups of eczema on the face. This includes, for example, using a fragranced or irritating facial skin care product. In children, this can sometimes be related to an issue with the barrier of the skin.

Eczema is an incredibly common disease. It’s so common, that over 31 million Americans are living with some form of it.

Managing your eczema flare-ups is more than using creams and medications. It also involves awareness of your potential triggers and making lifestyle changes that lessen the potential of flares.

While it can be a frustrating disease, you have the power to manage your symptoms — especially when you develop a plan with your doctor and stick to it.