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What Causes Eczema to Flare Up

6 mins

Radhika Bhatia

A question that plagues many is – what causes eczema to flare up in the first place? Here is all you need to know and tips for preventing those flare-ups.

Do you wonder what causes eczema to flare up sometimes? Well, it is even hard to narrow down the root cause of this skin disease. However, there are many possible triggers that can lead to a flare-up.

This skin disease is often accompanied by persistent itchiness, redness, inflammation, and dryness. In most cases, this frustrating skin condition can be treated with the help of over-the-counter ointments. 

For treating severe cases of eczema, however, it is important to limit the exposure to the potential triggers. In this article, we will provide you with everything you need to know about these triggers.

Table of Contents: 

  • What is eczema?
  • Common Types of Eczema
  • Atopic Dermatitis
  • Contact Dermatitis
  • Dyshidrotic Eczema
  • Hand Eczema
  • Neurodermatitis
  • Nummular Eczema
  • Stasis Dermatitis
  • What causes eczema to flare up?
  • Irritants
  • Exposure to water
  • Stress
  • Heat and dry air
  • Dry skin
  • Hormonal changes
  • Microbes
  • Sweat
  • Allergens
  • Exercise
  • How to prevent eczema flare-ups?
  • Moisturizers most effective in treating flare-ups

What is eczema?

The roots of the word Eczema can be traced back to the Greek word ‘ekzein’, which means to ‘break out’ or ‘boil over’. Eczema is a type of dermatitis in which the skin becomes red, dry, bumpy, and itchy. 

Eczema can flare up on any part of the body, although it usually starts around the hands, feet, ankles, knees, inner elbow, around the eyes, and neck. 

This skin condition essentially damages the skin barrier, which then makes the skin more prone to dryness and infection. It is not a contagious skin disease, nor is it harmful. The problem lies with managing the symptoms of the condition.

Eczema is known to affect more than 31 million people in the United States. It is more common among children, and generally peaks in early childhood. However, most children outgrow this skin condition as they grow older. 

People who have a family history of food and environmental allergies, and asthma are more likely to develop eczema during their lifetime.

Common Types of Eczema

Eczema is commonly referred to by its most common form, atopic dermatitis. However, there are actually a few other forms of eczema too, each with its own symptoms.

Before we get to what causes eczema to flare up, it is important to know about the different types of eczema. 

Here is a brief overview of the common types:

Atopic Dermatitis

This common type of eczema often starts during early childhood, getting milder as the individual grows up. This skin condition is part of the atopic triad, which consists of hay fever and asthma. 

This means that all these problems usually occur together in people. Atopic dermatitis is characterized by rashes in the creases of the knees and elbow, which turn thicker, lighter, or dark after healing. 

Various factors like a weakened immune system, genes, environmental triggers, or dry skin can lead to atopic dermatitis.

Contact Dermatitis

Contact dermatitis usually occurs when the skin becomes irritated and red after coming in contact with any substance. 

Within this, there are 2 subcategories – allergic contact dermatitis and irritant contact dermatitis. The former is caused by the immune system’s reaction to any substance, while the latter occurs when a chemical causes irritation in the skin. 

Contact dermatitis is often characterized by a burning and stinging sensation along with itchiness and redness.

Dyshidrotic Eczema

This type of eczema is characterized by blisters in the feet and hand, particularly in the toes, fingers, soles, and palms. The blisters can leave the skin with a scaly appearance which is then prone to cracking and flaking. 

Dyshidrotic eczema can be caused due to damp feet and hands, allergies, stress, and exposure to various substances.

Hand Eczema

This type of eczema only affects the skin surrounding the hands. It is characterized by dry, itchy, and red skin in the hands, which can lead to blisters or cracks.

It commonly affects people whose hands come in contact with harsh chemicals daily, like hairdressers, cleaners, and healthcare workers.

Neurodermatitis

This type of eczema is also characterized by scaly and thick patches of skin in the legs, arms, scalp, back of the neck, hands, and other places. They can be very itchy and get infected easily when scratched. 

Although the exact trigger for neurodermatitis has not been determined, people with psoriasis and other eczema types often develop this condition. 

It appears to be very much like atopic dermatitis, however, the itchiness often happens when the person is sleeping or in a relaxed state.

Nummular Eczema

This is an eczema type that results in the formation of rounded spots on the skin. The word nummular is derived from the Latin word for coin, since the itchy spots are shaped like a coin. 

It can be easily identified because of its shape and often leads to an extremely itchy feeling. It can be triggered by allergic reactions to insect bites. Dry skin is also a contributing factor in this type of eczema.

Stasis Dermatitis

This skin condition happens because of fluid leaks from the weakened veins into the skin. It can lead to redness, itching, pain, and swelling in the skin. People with stasis dermatitis often have varicose veins in their legs. 

It often starts with swelling in the lower part of the legs, after which they can start feeling heavy. In some cases, people also develop open sores in the lower legs and feet. Stasis dermatitis is usually caused by problems in the blood flow to the lower legs.

What causes eczema to flare up?

Eczema can be triggered because of a variety of factors. Identifying these triggers is important for avoiding the symptoms of eczema. 

If you are looking to understand what causes eczema to flare up, here is a list of triggers:

Irritants

Eczema can often flare up in some people because of different kinds of irritants. These irritants can remove moisture and oils from the skin, which can lead to a compromised skin barrier. 

ezcema, skin issues

Some common rash-inducing irritants are acids (vinegar and lemon juice), alkalis, cleaning products, and friction. Artificial fragrances which are often found in a host of products like cosmetics, bath, and cleaning products, can also trigger an eczema flare-up.

Exposure to water

When the skin is frequently exposed to water, it can lead to drying out of the skin which increases the chances of eczema. Frequent hand washing is generally considered a good habit as it prevents the spread of viruses, it can certainly worsen the skin condition if you have eczema. 

Whether you wash your hands with soaps, hand sanitizer, or hot water, the result would be the same. Frequently bathing, showering and swimming can also dry out the skin, making it susceptible to an eczema flare-up.

Stress

Stress can also lead to an eczema flare-up in some people. A study was carried out in 2020, which examined the common triggers in people with atopic dermatitis. It was found that the most significant trigger in around 35.4 percent of the people was stress.

Stress contributes to inflammation, which explains how it can make an eczema flare-up worse. People diagnosed with mental health conditions like anxiety and depression are often more at risk.

Heat and dry air

The same study conducted in 2020 found that other significant triggers that lead to an eczema flare-up in people are dry air and high temperatures. 

More than 24 percent of the participants said that they often experience worsened symptoms because of changes in weather, heat, and dry air. 

People with any form of eczema are usually more vulnerable to flare-ups because of environmental changes.

Dry skin

Some people have dry skin regardless of the climate and environment they are living in. This is especially true for people with eczema, as their genes cause their skin to become more permeable. This type of skin is not able to retain moisture, which can exacerbate the skin condition.

Hormonal changes

Changes in hormones can also trigger eczema to a great degree. A study recently found that children, especially females are more susceptible to developing atopic dermatitis after crossing puberty. 

This is because female sex hormones usually tend to increase the T helper 2 cells which are commonly involved in atopic dermatitis. This also explains why eczema tends to get worse during pregnancy or menstruation.

Microbes

Eczema is often triggered because of certain types of viruses, bacteria, and fungi. Staphylococcus aureus is a bacteria that is usually found in large numbers on the skin of people with atopic dermatitis. 

When the skin is scratched, these microbes can enter into the deeper layers leading to a skin infection. Besides this, another type of yeast known as the Malassezia occurs in people with seborrheic dermatitis.

Sweat

Sweat is another common trigger for eczema. When the skin is moist or the body temperature is raised, it becomes more susceptible to developing rashes.

Allergens

Food allergies are the leading cause of eczema flare-ups in people. We already know that eczema is part of the atopic triad, occurring commonly with asthma and fever. 

In many instances, the symptoms of eczema tend to worsen in people when they have an allergic reaction to something. 

Exercise

Exercising and physical activity is always recommended for leading a healthy lifestyle. However, people with eczema often find that exercising tends to exacerbate their symptoms, often leading to an eczema flare-up. 

Since sweat tends to contain some amount of iron, copper, nickel, zinc, and sodium, it can lead to irritated skin.

How to prevent eczema flare-ups?

The treatment of eczema depends on the symptoms and the type of eczema you have. However, there is no medication that cures people of eczema. The key is to look for ways to avoid and prevent eczema flare-ups. 

The first step is knowing the common triggers that cause eczema to flare up. From the list of triggers given above, you can keep track of things and activities that often lead to eczema flare-ups. 

Another thing you can do is moisturize your skin, as dry skin often leads to worsened eczema symptoms. After you do any kind of high-energy activity or bathe, it is important to provide the skin with the necessary moisture it has lost. 

But the question remains: What kind of moisturizers are most effective in treating eczema? This important question will be answered next.

Moisturizers most effective in treating flare-ups

Moisturizing your skin is essential for combating the symptoms of eczema. However, all moisturizers are not created equally. If you want to get your eczema under control, it is important to keep the skin hydrated with the help of the right creams, lotions, and ointments. 

Here are some ingredients to look for when choosing the moisturizers:

  • Shea Butter: Look for moisturizers with shea butter, lanolin, and glycerin, as they can help in repairing the skin after an eczema flare-up. These ingredients are also deeply hydrating for the skin, so they can prevent flare-ups in the future too. The Shea and Cocoa Butter Moisturizing Lotion is a great option in this case.
  • wow shea butter, skin butter
  • Hyaluronic acid: This is another great ingredient that helps in drawing our moisture from the air for your skin. Moisturizers with hyaluronic acid can be deeply hydrating for skin that is dry and flaky. The Wow Skin Science Hyaluronic Acid Water Gel is a great option for a facial moisturizer for eczema-affected skin.
  • Aloe Vera: The anti-inflammatory and hydrating properties of aloe vera make it a great option for treating skin with eczema. It provides cool relief from the itchy, dry skin that is common in an eczema flare-up. The Aloe Vera Body Lotion from WOW Skin Science is a great option for a moisturizer, which also contains shea butter and hyaluronic acid.
  • Equipped with the knowledge of what causes eczema to flare up, you will be able to avoid a flare-up from happening in the first place. Whatever may be the cause of your trigger for eczema, the key is to keep your skin hydrated. With our recommendations of products and ingredients, you will be able to make the right choice in seeking treatments for relief and prevention.

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    Radhika Bhatia

    I'm a content writer, copywriter, and blogger with a background in marketing, planning, and eCommerce. I specialize in beauty writing, including skincare, cosmetics, wellness, aesthetics, and health. Classically trained and idea-savvy, I love living in the present.

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