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Researchers are still working to determine the underlying causes of eczema, but most dermatologists believe that a combination of genetics and triggers cause flare-ups. For some people with eczema, the triggers are easy to identify – they develop symptoms almost immediately after touching an irritating substance. For other people, the cause of flare-ups can be harder to determine.

Common Eczema Flare Up Triggers

A person with patchy, dry and red skin itching due to an eczema flare up

Eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis, is a disease characterized by inflammation. In fact, the “-itis” in dermatitis refers to inflammation. Symptoms of an eczema flare-up include inflamed reddish-brown or gray patches, serious itching, dry skin, and small raised bumps. These symptoms may vary according to the specific causes of the flare-up.

Irritants

Certain irritants cause flare-ups by damaging the protective oils and moisture that keep skin healthy. If damage continues before the skin can repair itself, a flare-up may occur.

Irritants include:

    • Friction
    • Cleanings products, such as detergents
    • Acids, including vinegar or lemon juice
    • Alkalis, such as baking soda or oven cleaners
    • Artificial fragrance, such as often found in cleaning products, cosmetics, or bath products
    • Cigarette smoke
    • Nickel and other metals
    • Certain fabrics, such as wool and polyester
    • Cocamidopropyl betaine, often added to shampoos and lotions to make the products feel thicker and creamier

Dry Skin

Dry skin can become brittle, rough, scaly, and tight, which can trigger an eczema flare-up. The affected skin may also feel itchy; scratching dry skin can also cause symptoms of eczema.

Stress

While stress and anxiety do not directly cause eczema, they can trigger symptoms. When the body is under stress, it releases cortisol. The release of too much cortisol interferes with the immune system in ways that cause an inflammatory response in the skin.

Weather

Almost every kind of weather – hot, cold, dry, or even in between – can trigger a flare-up. Temperature and lack of humidity can trigger itchiness in people with eczema. In fact, nearly a quarter of respondents to a survey said that changes in weather, dry air, and heat caused symptoms.

Hormone Changes

Changes in hormones can trigger eczema flares in some women. Estrogen levels drop before menstrual periods, after pregnancy, and during menopause. Low levels of estrogen can cause moisture loss, increases in bacteria, and slowed healing; these processes can trigger atopic dermatitis.

Controlling Eczema Flare Ups

While there is no cure for eczema, treatment can control the severity of symptoms. Eczema flare up treatment depends largely on the specific type of eczema and its severity. Preventing winter eczema flare up may include avoiding hot baths, using gentle soap, avoiding contact with wool and polyester.

Eczema treatment may also include lifestyle changes and medications, such as:

    • Antihistamines and other non-prescription medications
    • Prescription topicals
    • Biologics that treat inflammation
    • Oral immunosuppressants that suppress an overactive immune system
    • Light therapy

Ways to Prevent Eczema Flare Ups

Fortunately, it may be possible to prevent eczema flare up. Perhaps the most effective way to prevent flares is to avoid known eczema triggers. Keeping a journal can help patients connect eczema flares with specific triggers. Moisturizing the skin is also important, but prescription topical and/or immunosuppressant medications may be necessary to reduce itching and scratching.

For more information about what causes eczema to flare up, consult with your dermatologist at Center for Dermatology & Laser Surgery. Identifying your eczema triggers can help you avoid uncomfortable symptoms of eczema.