4 Ways To Discover Your Eczema Triggers | MyEczemaTeam

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4 Ways To Discover Your Eczema Triggers

Updated on December 27, 2022

Understanding your eczema triggers can help you gain greater control over your symptoms. Identifying what causes your skin to flare isn’t always easy, but discovering your triggers can help prevent symptoms and improve your quality of life. Below are four actions you can take to see if some common eczema triggers — stress, weather, diet, and skin irritants — are affecting your skin.

Fill out the pledge at the end of this article to commit to the actions you’re going to take. Leave a comment to encourage others to join you in taking the pledge.

1. Determine Your Stressors

Studies show that psychological stress, anxiety, depression, and other negative emotions are associated with eczema, or atopic dermatitis, flares. Research points to complex interactions between the brain and skin that are affected by stress hormones, inflammation, and the nervous system.

“Does anyone else’s eczema flare up when they’re agitated or upset?” asked a MyEczemaTeam member. “Stress is a huge trigger for me!” another member answered.

If you notice that these types of feelings affect your eczema, you can take specific steps to explore and manage stress. Start by writing in a daily journal — expressing gratitude can be key. Be sure to note any changes in your sleep habits, relationships, finances, physical health, and work life. Consider the day’s details and also the bigger picture of what’s been on your mind. Relaxation training and therapy for mental health concerns are shown to be helpful for people who struggle with chronic itching.

In addition, take time to sit and think about your goals of managing your eczema. Is there anything you would change? What’s going well and what isn’t? What barriers or challenges do you face? How could you tackle them or get help to do so?

As an activity, try creating a Life Pie chart to reflect on how you expend your energy. Start by writing down the percentage of your time that you spend on each category.

Categories may include:

  • Home
  • Family and friends
  • Personal growth
  • Creative endeavors
  • Work, career, or school
  • Money
  • Spirituality
  • Social connections
  • Intellectual stimulation
  • Physical activity
  • Entertainment
  • Romance
  • Helping others and doing volunteer work

Next, put these categories into a pie chart for a visual representation of your current balance in life, and reflect on what you see. Note any differences between how you spend your energy and how you wish it was spent. You can work to make changes in your life on your own or with the help of a professional, like a psychologist or another licensed mental health counselor.

If you’re a caregiver of a child or teenager with eczema, pay attention to their moods and help them manage their stress. Connection with your child is key to their development and happiness — find common ground or an activity they love that you can enjoy with them. Whether for your child or yourself, talk to your health care team about referrals for psychotherapy or mindfulness training, and take action to reduce the stress that may aggravate eczema.

2. Pay Attention to Weather Changes

Dry air, cold weather, humidity, and heat can be triggers for many people with eczema. Some studies have shown that cold, dry weather can trigger eczema. Other studies have pointed to heat, humidity, bathing in hot water, and sun exposure as triggers. Often these worsen itching, which can cause an eczema flare.

“I cannot do the sun and heat because if I start sweating, my skin will itch badly,” said one MyEczemaTeam member. Another wrote, “Changes in weather and humidity make my skin bad.”

Keep track of when your eczema is more active, and prepare for weather changes and other environmental factors that may trigger flares. If warm weather is a trigger for you, you can take steps like these to help prevent flare-ups:

  • Drink plenty of water.
  • Refrigerate thick, emollient style moisturizers, and apply them more often during weather changes.
  • Carry a small towel and water to dab off sweat when you’re outdoors.
  • Wear loose, lightweight clothing made of natural fabrics.
  • Swim or take a cold shower to cool down.
  • Ask your dermatologist about nonirritating sunscreens that contain zinc rather than chemicals.

If cold weather is a trigger for you, you might try strategies such as the the following:

  • To keep air from getting dry when using central heating, run a humidifier or place a bowl of water near a heat source. (This is not recommended if children under 6 years old are in the household.)
  • Periodically open windows and let fresh air in, even in cool weather. This helps ward off dust mites and mold.
  • Avoid scratchy scarves and hats made from wool or other irritating fabrics.
  • Apply thick, emollient moisturizers two or three times daily, and take extra skin care steps to avoid dry, cracking skin.

3. Observe How Your Skin Reacts to Foods

People with eczema have a higher risk of food allergies and sensitivities that may trigger eczema flares. The role of food allergies in causing flares remains unclear, though. In a review of 421 adults and children with eczema, eliminating milk or eggs or changing to a very restrictive diet did not help their eczema. More dangerously, aggressively eliminating foods can result in inadequate nutrition.

You can take action to eliminate foods that may trigger eczema, but do so carefully. Keep a food diary to see if flare-ups occur after eating any particular foods. Don’t make any big changes to your diet without medical advice, and talk to your doctor if you notice a pattern of flare-ups with certain foods. You may want to ask your doctor for a referral to an allergist, a dermatologist, or a registered dietitian who can guide you in changing your diet. A registered dietitian can teach you how to read food labels and scan for ingredients that trigger your symptoms.

Peolple living with conditions that cause chronic inflammation, such as eczema, may benefit from an anti-inflammatory diet that avoids saturated fats, highly processed foods, refined sugars, and refined flour. An anti-inflammatory diet includes:

  • Foods high in fiber, like fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole grains
  • Spices like basil, oregano, ginger, and turmeric
  • Healthy fats like extra-virgin olive oil, avocado, almonds, and anchovies
  • Green tea

“I have found my triggers, and I can now manage them very well,” wrote a MyEczemaTeam member. “I find drinking lots of water every day really helps. For me, sugar is a big trigger.” Another member wrote, “I’m back to being 100 percent gluten- and dairy-free. I currently have no flare-ups.”

4. Avoid Common Skin Irritants

Soaps, laundry detergents, and other household cleaners may trigger contact dermatitis and flares. Even some topical lotions, creams, and ointments might contain ingredients that irritate your skin. You may be sensitive or even allergic to fragrances, chemicals, or solvents used in these products.

In addition, natural substances like mold, pollen, and dust mites can trigger eczema flares. To learn more about your sensitivities or allergens, pay attention to whether the soaps and cleaning products you use seem to aggravate your skin condition. You may experience itchy or dry skin, or you may notice bumps or a rash starting to develop. Sometimes skin also becomes thickened or patchy.

Most importantly, applying an unscented thick, greasy emollient two or three times daily can help prevent eczema flares. Simply moisturizing the skin well can reduce chronic itching and allow the skin to heal.

You can take steps to avoid irritants in soaps and other cleaning products. Try to do the following:

  • Avoid soaps, moisturizing products, and detergents with fragrances or dyes, which contain chemical irritants.
  • Look for products with labels that say “hypoallergenic” or “for sensitive skin.”
  • Try an alternative to soap, such as a mild oil-based cleanser and water.
  • Rinse laundry twice to remove detergent residue, and avoid fabric softeners and dryer sheets.
  • Wash sheets in hot water to kill dust mites and remove pet dander.
  • Wear cotton-lined protective gloves when using household cleaners.
  • Clean with household ingredients like distilled vinegar and baking soda, which can be used in many homemade cleaners.

“I love goat milk soap. Best to make sure you know all the ingredients to make sure that there are no triggers in it,” said a MyEczemaTeam member.

Take Action

Are you trying to better understand what triggers your eczema? Select the actions below that you pledge to try. You can see how many others on MyEczemaTeam are doing the same.

Comment below to share which actions you selected, and add any other steps you pledge to take to manage your eczema triggers. By sharing your action steps, you can gain support as you learn to manage your symptoms.

Talk With Others Who Understand

MyEczemaTeam is the social network for people with eczema and their loved ones. On MyEczemaTeam, more than 46,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with eczema.

What potential triggers do you think contribute to your eczema? Do you avoid certain perfumes, foods, or skin irritants to control your symptoms? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.

Updated on December 27, 2022
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Kevin Berman, M.D., Ph.D. is a dermatologist at the Atlanta Center for Dermatologic Disease, Atlanta, GA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Learn more about him here.
Anastasia Climan, RDN, CDN is a dietitian with over 10 years of experience in public health and medical writing. Learn more about her here.
Joan Grossman is a freelance writer, filmmaker, and consultant based in Brooklyn, NY. Learn more about her here.
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