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Baby’s hand with eczema

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  • Eczema is typically found in families with history of atopic dermatitis or any other atopic disease, including asthma and hay fever
  • Eczema is also directly linked to an overactive response by the body’s immune system to certain conditions, or the presence of irritants or allergens
 

What Are the Causes of Eczema?

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Eczema flare-ups occur when something outside your body “switches on” the immune system, and your skin cells do not respond normally.1 However, the exact cause of eczema is still not fully understood. This skin disorder is believed to develop from a combination of genetic and environmental factors.

Your Eczema May Be Due to Your Genetics

Eczema is typically found in families with history of atopic dermatitis or any other atopic disease, including asthma and hay fever. Studies indicate that in people with eczema:

  • There is a change in the skin barrier, which causes water to escape while allergens are able to enter, causing dry, itchy patches.2
  • The skin doesn’t have enough amounts of cathelicidin, a natural antimicrobial that helps protect it from infections.
  • A protein (claudin-1) is weakened, causing the skin cells to become leaky and permeable to allergens and infectious agents.3
  • There is a deficiency in the protein filaggrin, which causes ichthyosis vulgaris, an inherited skin condition that is directly linked to atopic eczema.4

Environmental Stressors Trigger Flare-Ups

Eczema is also directly linked to an overactive response by the body’s immune system to certain conditions, or the presence of irritants or allergens.5 These are called “triggers,” which directly cause flare-ups to occur. Triggers can vary from one person to another, but here are some common types to watch out for:6

  • Sweating or overheating. Heat and humidity make you sweat and dry out your skin, which can make the symptoms worse.

    If you have eczema, managing extreme temperatures at home and keeping sweating to a minimum can help avoid flare-ups. Dry and cool conditions are recommended if you have this condition.

  • Household chemicals and personal hygiene products. These products tend to dry out your skin, triggering flare-ups. Fragrance is a common irritant that can trigger your eczema symptoms, so be wary of fragranced soaps, perfumes and other skin care products.
  • Sudden temperature changes. A sudden decline in humidity can cause your skin to dry out. Conversely, moving from a cold to hot environment can trigger your symptoms. A type of eczema called nummular dermatitis or discoid eczema is more prevalent during winter months.
  • Scratchy fabrics. Wool and synthetic fabrics can irritate your skin and cause flare-ups. Cotton and cotton blend fabrics are usually the best choices if you have eczema.
  • Allergens like pet dander and food. When people with allergic eczema come in consume certain foods like eggs, nuts and dairy, or come into contact with substances (even those typically not harmful to the body) like pollen, smoke, dust, mold and pet dander, an immune system response is triggered.
  • Stress. In some cases, your symptoms may get worse when you’re feeling stressed. Deep breathing, yoga and other techniques can help manage your flare-ups.

Identifying and avoiding your triggers, as well as knowing the factors that can aggravate your symptoms, will help keep your condition under control. Remember that your triggers may vary depending on the specific type of eczema you have.

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