Understanding your eczema triggers can help you gain greater control over your symptoms. It’s not always easy to identify what causes your skin to flare. Below are four actions you can take to see if some common triggers — stress, weather, diet, and skin irritants — are affecting your skin.
The exact cause of eczema, also called atopic dermatitis, is not fully understood. Research shows eczema is likely caused by an overactive immune system, genetic factors that prevent the skin barrier from retaining moisture, and triggers such as environmental irritants and emotional stress.
Triggers are not always easy to identify because an eczema flare may occur some time after exposure. Common eczema triggers include:
Triggers can cause flare-ups and inflammation, with symptoms such as dry and itchy skin that can become painful and discolored. People with eczema are at greater risk for skin infections, asthma, allergies, depression, and anxiety.
Discovering your triggers can help prevent symptoms and improve your quality of life. Here are four ways you can identify your eczema triggers and take action to manage your condition proactively.
Action Step 1: De-Stress
Studies show that psychological stress, anxiety, depression, and other negative emotions are associated with eczema 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.
Take note of how stress may be causing your eczema to react. You might want to keep a journal, and write down incidents of stress or negative emotions. See if your eczema flare-ups coincide with stressful situations. If you are a parent of a child or teenager with eczema, pay attention to their moods and help them manage their stress.
Here are some steps you can take to manage stress:
Talk to your health care team about referrals for psychotherapy or mindfulness training, and take action to reduce stress that may aggravate your eczema.
Action Step 2: Prepare for Hot or Cold Weather
Dry air, cold weather, humidity, and heat are triggers for many people with eczema. Some studies have shown that cold, dry weather can trigger eczema. Other studies have pointed to heat, humidity, and sun exposure as triggers for sensitive skin.
“The sun and the heat I cannot do because if I start sweating my skin will itch badly,” said one MyEczemaTeam member. Another member wrote, “Change in weather and humidity makes mine 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, there are steps you can take to help prevent flare-ups:
Here are some steps you can take if cold weather is a trigger for you:
Action Step 3: Try Different Foods
People with eczema have a higher risk for food allergies and food sensitivities that may trigger eczema flares. In a survey of 169 people with eczema, those who eliminated flour products, gluten, and nightshades (a class of vegetables that includes potatoes, tomatoes, and eggplant) reported some improvement in eczema symptoms. Symptoms also improved when vegetables, organic food, and fish oil were added to the diet.
You can take action to eliminate foods from your diet that may trigger eczema, but do so carefully. Try keeping 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.
With conditions that cause chronic inflammation, such as eczema, you may benefit from an anti-inflammatory diet that avoids saturated fats, highly processed foods, refined sugars, and refined flours. An anti-inflammatory diet includes:
“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.”
Action Step 4: Avoid Skin Irritants
Soaps, laundry detergents, and other household cleaners may trigger contact dermatitis and flares. Make note of which soaps and cleaning products you use, and determine if your eczema is aggravated after using them.
You can take action steps to avoid irritants in soaps and other cleaning products. Try the following tips:
“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.
Call to Action
Talk With Others Who Understand
MyEczemaTeam is the social network for people with eczema and their loved ones. On MyEczemaTeam, more than 37,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with eczema. Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.