Connect with others who understand.

sign up log in
About MyEczemaTeam

What Causes Eczema?

Updated on October 06, 2020
Medically reviewed by
Kevin Berman, M.D., Ph.D.
Article written by
Kelly Crumrin

Eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis, develops when a person’s immune system becomes sensitized to proteins from a source inside or outside the body. The immune system becomes overactive and sets off inflammatory processes that attack the skin.

Most scientists believe eczema is probably caused by a combination of inherited and environmental factors that affect the immune system in the skin. Still, no one has identified why some people develop eczema and some people don’t.

Risk Factors for Eczema

It is important to note that while science is good at finding correlations, or apparent relationships, between factors and disease, correlation does not prove the factor causes the disease. Many risk factors for eczema have been identified and are being studied, but none have been pinpointed as the cause of eczema.

Age is a factor in the development of eczema. Younger children are more at risk for developing eczema than older people. Many children with eczema will outgrow this condition, but they may always have more sensitive skin.

Hereditary Factors

People are more likely to develop eczema if a close relative also has eczema. People with eczema are also more likely to develop other immune-related conditions, including asthma and food allergies. These three related conditions — allergies, eczema, and asthma, known as the “atopic triad” or “atopic march” — tend to run in families. Approximately 70 percent of those diagnosed with atopic dermatitis have a family history of atopic conditions.

One gene that has been identified as a significant influence in the development of eczema is the gene that controls the production of filaggrin. Filaggrin is a protein that helps form a protective barrier on the outer layer of skin. Studies have shown that those with the genetic variant resulting in lower levels of filaggrin are more likely to develop eczema due to a compromised barrier of the skin. Abnormal filaggrin levels allow external factors to irritate the skin more easily.

Approximately 35 percent of people with food allergies also have eczema. Genes that influence skin absorbency may contribute to eczema. A new theory about the development of food allergies suggests the immune system becomes sensitized to foods when babies receive early exposure to the foods via their skin. If babies with vulnerable skin are kissed and touched by people with food on their hands or mouths, the theory suggests, perhaps the proteins absorb into the baby’s skin, and the immune system interprets the food proteins as dangerous invaders.

Environmental Factors

Children born to older mothers appear to be more likely to develop eczema.

Living in developed countries and urban areas also seems to increase the risk for developing eczema. This may be due to environmental exposures.

Those who live in colder, drier climates appear to be more likely to develop eczema. This is because the dry air takes moisture from the skin, leaving the skin with small cracks that make it more sensitive to the environment.

Can Eczema Be Prevented?

Since scientists are not yet sure why some people develop eczema, there is no known way to prevent it. Hereditary factors that seem to raise the risk for eczema are beyond anyone’s control.

Factors that may reduce the risk for developing eczema include:

  • Using moisturizers daily to maintain a healthy skin barrier, starting in early life
  • Being raised with pets or livestock
  • Attending day care before age 2
  • Normal exposure to germs in childhood

Stress is not believed to cause eczema. However, the chemicals the body produces in response to stress can also worsen symptoms of eczema. Stress is a trigger for eczema flares in some people.

Condition Guide

References

  1. Eczema Causes and Triggers — National Eczema Association
  2. Atopic dermatitis clinical guideline — American Academy of Dermatology Association
  3. What Are Risk Factors for Atopic Dermatitis? – AtopicDermatitis.net
  4. Food allergy is linked to skin exposure and genetics – Northwestern Now
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.
Kelly Crumrin leads the creation of content that educates and empowers people with chronic illnesses. Learn more about her here.

A MyEczemaTeam Member said:

Most drug companies have a patient assistance program for those that can no longer afford their meds. Please reach out to them. Also, ask Dr. for samples.

posted about 2 months ago

hug

Recent articles

KEY TAKEAWAYS: Eczema frequently begins in childhood, but it can continue into adolescence and...

Eczema in Adolescents

KEY TAKEAWAYS: Eczema frequently begins in childhood, but it can continue into adolescence and...
KEY TAKEAWAYS: Atopic dermatitis is a chronic, severe type of eczema.There is a strong...

What Is Atopic Dermatitis?

KEY TAKEAWAYS: Atopic dermatitis is a chronic, severe type of eczema.There is a strong...
Injections may be part of diagnosis, treatment, and disease management for a child with eczema....

Eczema in Children: Tips To Help Kids Deal With Injections

Injections may be part of diagnosis, treatment, and disease management for a child with eczema....
Itching from eczema can wake a child and make getting back to sleep difficult.There are ways to...

Helping Your Child With Sleep Issues

Itching from eczema can wake a child and make getting back to sleep difficult.There are ways to...
Certain alternative medicines and at-home remedies may help relieve symptoms like dry skin,...

Apple Cider Vinegar for Eczema: Is It Effective?

Certain alternative medicines and at-home remedies may help relieve symptoms like dry skin,...
When it comes to eczema, managing bothersome symptoms like dry, itchy skin is a top priority....

Oatmeal Bath for Eczema: Effectiveness, Benefits, and Uses

When it comes to eczema, managing bothersome symptoms like dry, itchy skin is a top priority....
Eczema (atopic dermatitis) can be a difficult skin condition to live with because there is no...

Castor Oil for Eczema Relief: Is It Effective?

Eczema (atopic dermatitis) can be a difficult skin condition to live with because there is no...
Because the physical impact of eczema can be all-consuming, you may be dealing with psychological...

How Eczema Can Affect Your Mental Health

Because the physical impact of eczema can be all-consuming, you may be dealing with psychological...
Eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis, is a chronic or recurrent skin disease. Eczema often...

Eczema Diet: Foods To Eat and Foods To Avoid

Eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis, is a chronic or recurrent skin disease. Eczema often...
Your skin care routine may play a bigger role in triggering your eczema than you think. Some of...

Best Soaps for Eczema: Your Guide

Your skin care routine may play a bigger role in triggering your eczema than you think. Some of...
MyEczemaTeam My eczema Team

Two Ways to Get Started with MyEczemaTeam

Become a Member

Connect with others who are living with eczema. Get members only access to emotional support, advice, treatment insights, and more.

sign up

Become a Subscriber

Get the latest articles about eczema sent to your inbox.

Not now, thanks

Privacy policy
MyEczemaTeam My eczema Team

Thank you for signing up.

close