How Long Does an Eczema Flare-Up Last? Treatment, Prevention, and More | MyEczemaTeam

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How Long Does an Eczema Flare-Up Last? Treatment, Prevention, and More

Medically reviewed by Meredith Plant, M.D.
Written by Joan Grossman
Updated on February 20, 2024

Every eczema flare is unique, and no two people have the same experience. Eczema flare-ups can vary considerably in how long they last and what they feel like. But on average, how long does an eczema flare-up last? And how long does it take for an eczema flare-up to clear?

Unfortunately, there’s no one answer. Importantly, medical experts say there’s no standard definition of what an eczema flare is. An eczema flare-up is generally considered an exacerbation — or worsening — of symptoms. However, researchers haven’t yet determined an exact science for measuring the onset, duration, and resolution of eczema flare-ups. For one thing, “normal” skin for some people with eczema may be different from others’, depending on their level of disease activity and the type of eczema they have. Some people’s skin may never clear completely.

MyEczemaTeam members have described a wide range of experiences with eczema flare-ups that have lasted anywhere from days to months.

“Not doing good today. My flare has been for five months and I’m having joint pain as well. I am seeing the doctor tomorrow,” a member wrote. “This flare is affecting my sleep as well.”

“No eczema flare-up on my neck, totally gone,” another team member shared, mentioning that they had taken oral steroids and used a prescription cream. “It has been three weeks, and it’s totally disappeared. I am praying it does not flare its ugly head again.”

Understanding the Duration of Eczema Flare-Ups

Research on the duration of eczema flares is limited, according to a 2017 review of medical literature on atopic dermatitis in the journal Dermatologic Clinics. (Atopic dermatitis — also known as atopic eczema — is the most common form of eczema.)

One estimate suggests that people with moderate to severe atopic dermatitis can spend an average of 1 out of every 3 days experiencing a flare. In this context, a flare was defined as symptoms of eczema that suddenly worsened and required consultation with a doctor or the use of a topical (on the skin) prescription medication. On average, a flare occurred nine times a year and lasted about 15 days per episode.

More Research Is Needed on Eczema Flare-Ups

The 2017 study determined that among 26 studies, there were 21 different definitions for atopic dermatitis flares, pointing to the need for more research into disease activity in people with eczema. Moreover, only four of the studies included outcomes reported by people with eczema.

According to the National Eczema Association, severe eczema flare-ups generally last from several days to several weeks. The nonprofit also describes flare-ups in somewhat general terms, as acute (sudden) symptoms that develop from prolonged itch. A flare may include a worsening of symptoms such as:

  • Rash with bumps or discoloration that varies depending on skin tone
  • Coin-shaped lesions (sores) that may ooze, which occurs in nummular eczema
  • Blisters (with dyshidrotic eczema)
  • Flaking, scaling, or crusting of skin
  • Itchiness
  • Swelling
  • Thickening patches of skin

“I’m having another flare on my hands and leg, with intense itching. Itchy scalp. Very little sleep in the last two nights. Seems to be a recurring, frequent pattern,” a MyEczemaTeam member said.

Symptoms May Persist and Be Perceived as a Flare

Because there’s no clear definition of an eczema flare-up, many people with the condition may define a flare as disease activity that includes prolonged and aggravating symptoms. Eczema is considered a chronic, remitting condition — meaning there is no known cure and symptoms come and go. In some people symptoms may go away long term, particularly in cases of childhood eczema. Dermatology researchers also recognize that for some people eczema symptoms persist over time with little change.

People who experience long-term eczema symptoms may describe them as flare-ups. One MyEczemaTeam member asked about persistent symptoms: “I’m curious to know, as this horrible flare seems to be lasting forever — how long has your worst flare lasted?”

“Nearly six months for me right now, and not much seems to be helping,” a team member answered.

Factors That Can Worsen Eczema

Understanding the causes of eczema can help you avoid triggers that can cause flare-ups.

People with eczema have disorders in their skin barrier, which causes the skin to become more dry and allows irritants and allergens to penetrate the skin more easily. In people with eczema, the immune system can overreact to foreign substances, which causes inflammation in the skin. Genetic factors (such as a family history of eczema), asthma, hay fever, and allergies also increase a person’s risk of developing eczema.

Triggers That May Cause or Worsen Flares

Flares are often triggered or worsened by environmental factors, things that you come in contact with, including common eczema triggers such as:

  • Smoke and air pollutants
  • Detergents, soaps, and fragrances
  • Skin care products
  • Some fabrics
  • Contact with allergens (things you are allergic to)
  • Sudden weather changes

“My flare-ups are the worst in the summer months, so it tends to be something environmental. But stress is a big problem lately, and I’ve noticed some flare-ups again,” a MyEczemaTeam member shared.

Different types of eczema — including contact dermatitis, seborrheic dermatitis, dyshidrotic eczema, neurodermatitis, and nummular eczema — have additional triggers. Research has indicated that some triggers, in particular, are linked to eczema worsening, including:

  • Dust mites
  • Certain metals
  • Emotional stress
  • Food allergies, especially to peanuts, eggs, or dairy

“They think my flare-ups are from a heavy metal allergy,” a MyEczemaTeam member said. “I had an implant in 2011 and started having a rash within six weeks. … Got it removed in 2016, but I can’t wear junk jewelry or touch metals for any length of time ☹.”

Other Factors That May Worsen Flares

Hormonal changes, including menstruation and pregnancy, and skin infections may also trigger or worsen eczema flares. An infection such as a cold or flu can also worsen eczema.

“Has anyone had a big flare-up following COVID? My 25-year-old son is on immunosuppressants, which have been working, but all of a sudden it has massively flared up,” a MyEczemaTeam member wrote.

Scratching itchy skin can worsen a flare and may cause skin discoloration, thickening of skin, or infection. Scratching can also worsen itch and lead to the itch-scratch cycle, in which both itching and scratching intensify and may cause a flare to last longer.

Another factor that can worsen eczema flare-ups is imbalances in the skin microbiome, the naturally occurring microorganisms that keep skin healthy. For instance, some people with eczema have an overgrowth of Staphylococcus aureus, a bacteria that has been linked to triggering and worsening flares. Heightened sensitivity to the fungus, Malassezia, which is a natural part of the skin biome, can also worsen eczema in some people.

The herpes simplex virus, which causes cold sores, can severely worsen an eczema flare-up. This condition is known as eczema herpeticum, and can quickly get worse with blisters and sores. This can be a serious condition and requires immediate medical care.

Treating and Preventing Flares-Ups

People with eczema are often concerned with how to prevent eczema flare-ups. The key is to maintain your treatment plan — including home skin care — and avoid your eczema triggers. Keep track of what triggers your eczema or causes allergic reactions, and avoid contact with substances and foods that flare up your eczema.

“Oh, I understand the itching! I have found that my food allergies set off an outbreak. Hope you find your triggers. Castor oil helps with the itch and inflammation,” said a MyEczemaTeam member.

Treatment Options

Eczema flare-ups are often treated with topical corticosteroids, which should be used exactly as instructed, only on affected areas, to avoid side effects. Sometimes an over-the-counter (OTC) topical steroid cream will control symptoms, but in some cases, a doctor may advise a stronger prescription steroid ointment.

In cases of severe eczema flare-ups or if symptoms don’t get better or worsen, your doctor may recommend another treatment option such as:

  • OTC oral antihistamines
  • OTC pain relievers
  • Prescription topical Janus kinase (JAK) inhibitors that target pathways in the immune system
  • Prescription topical calcineurin inhibitors (TCIs) that target cells in the immune system
  • Prescription topical phosphodiesterase 4 (PDE4) inhibitors that block enzymes in immune cells
  • Phototherapy (ultraviolet light therapy)

In severe cases of eczema, a doctor may prescribe biologic therapies, which are taken by injection and are considered immunomodulators. They also may recommend prescription immunosuppressants, which are taken orally, for people with severe eczema.

Keep Skin Moisturized

Maintaining regular skin care can help prevent eczema flares. It’s essential to avoid dry skin by applying moisturizer at least twice per day. Moisturizers, cleansers, and all skin care products should be fragrance-free and dye-free.

Always take lukewarm showers or baths, as hot water can dry out the skin. A lukewarm bath can help your skin absorb moisture. Adding gentle treatments to a bath — such as unscented bath oil, baking soda, colloidal oatmeal, salt, or apple cider vinegar — can sometimes help soothe symptoms. Avoid scrubbing sensitive skin, and gently pat the skin dry. Apply moisturizer right after bathing to more effectively retain moisture in the skin. Moisturizers and ointments high in oil are especially effective in preventing dryness in the skin.

“Moisturizers really help on my hands for the open lesions. Allergist said to put prescription cream on, then heavy moisturizer plus cotton gloves, before going to bed. Hands dry out easily,” a MyEczemaTeam member wrote.

“I’ve had great success treating minor flare-ups with Cetaphil cream (OTC) and clindamycin 1 percent gel (prescription) — after years of doctors prescribing lots of cortisone creams and going through endless breakout cycles on my hands and feet with dyshidrotic eczema,” another member said. “That was 15 years ago — and I have never again had a major flare. I get minor flares of atopic eczema on my arms and legs, and this is where Cetaphil and clindamycin work quickly.”

Discuss Your Flares With Your Doctor

It’s important to talk to your doctor, dermatologist, or allergist about your eczema flares. If you aren’t satisfied with your treatment plan, you can discuss other treatment options to help ensure that your eczema treatment is as effective as possible. Your health care provider can also advise you on good home skin care routines and home remedies that may help relieve symptoms.

Talk With Others Who Understand

MyEczemaTeam is the social network for people with eczema and their loved ones. More than 51,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with eczema.

Have you kept track of how long your eczema flares last? How do you manage your flare-ups? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.

Updated on February 20, 2024
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Meredith Plant, M.D. specializes in mental health, including prevention measures and treatment of ADHD, depression, and anxiety. 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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