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What Causes Eczema To Flare Up?

Eczema, or atopic dermatitis, is a common skin condition that can affect any part of the body. Typically, eczema first appears in childhood, but it can also start when you’re an adult too. 

Eczema tends to be a long-term condition, but it is possible to manage your symptoms, and sometimes clear them up completely. It helps to know what triggers your eczema symptoms too, so that you can avoid the things that make your condition flare up.

In this article, we’re going to take a closer look at eczema flare-ups, what exactly causes them, and how you can stop your eczema from flaring up. 

What are eczema flare-ups?

An eczema flare-up can feel like you’re battling against your condition, with your skin becoming more inflamed and itchier than ever. A flare-up will come and go, and it can be triggered by all sorts of different things. 

It’s important to know what the signs are so that you can nip it in the bud, hopefully decreasing the risk of it turning into a full-blown flare-up. 

As well as your usual eczema symptoms, you may experience the following:

  • Itching that gets worse at night 
  • Brown or grey patches of skin that become inflamed — these are usually found in areas like the hands, feet, neck and chest, and the inside of your elbows and backs of your knees
  • Dy skin that becomes broken and cracked
  • Raised bumps that can turn crusty

You may experience some or all of these symptoms during a flare-up.  

What causes eczema to flare up?

There isn’t one defining cause of all eczema flare-ups, as what triggers eczema symptoms can vary from person to person. 

However, there are some common triggers that you should be aware of when trying to prevent a flare-up:

  • Dry skin – if your skin becomes too dry, then it can lead to it becoming itchy and sore. This could then increase your chances of having a flare-up. 
  • Irritants – scented products that you may use every day could be the cause of an eczema flare-up. But there are other irritants you might not have thought of before such as cigarette smoke, nickel, and cocamidopropyl betaine which is found in shampoos. 
  • Weather – it’s not just the cold, dry weather that can trigger an eczema flare-up. In fact, you may experience them in the summer too — excess sweat can irritate your skin. 
  • Fabrics – certain fabrics such as wool and polyester can trigger itchiness and redness, especially for sensitive skin. 
  • Hormone changes –you might notice that your eczema is worse around your period or during pregnancy. Sometimes eczema can be made worse or triggered by fluctuating hormone levels. 

Can stress flare up eczema?

When your body undergoes stress or anxiety, it releases cortisol. This hormone can then lead to an inflammatory response in your skin, potentially causing an eczema flare-up. 

Do certain foods cause eczema flare ups?

Some food allergies (such as allergies to cows’ milk, eggs, peanuts, soya or wheat) can be a trigger for eczema flare-ups but usually only in infants or small children.

Avoiding a trigger food is not likely to ‘cure’ the eczema, but may help to prevent your condition from getting worse.

If you do feel that your eczema worsens after eating certain foods, then you may want to speak to an allergist, as they can figure out which food groups may be triggering this response in your body. 

How long does it take for an eczema flare-up to clear?

Eczema is classed as a chronic condition, which means its symptoms are long-lasting. While you may be able to soothe the symptoms, you’ll still have the condition and it can flare up from time to time.  

Once you know the trigger of your flare-up and remove it from your lifestyle, you should notice that the flare-up starts to subside. You also need the proper treatment to help clear up your flare-up too. 

Typically, a flare-up can last a couple of weeks, but it can be longer depending on the severity of it and what caused it. If you catch it early, then the flare-up may clear up quicker.

What to do when you have an eczema flare up

When your eczema flares up, there are some things that you can do at home to help reduce the itching and soothe your inflamed skin. 

One home self-care measure that may help during a flare-up is moisturising. You need to keep your skin well-hydrated when going through a flare-up, so moisturising twice a day could help. Make sure that you avoid anything with strong scents or other irritants though, as this could make your skin worse. 

If you find that your flare-up isn’t clearing up, then you may need to speak to a dermatologist or your GP to see if they can provide you with something stronger. Many of these treatments can’t be accessed over the counter, but they may be prescribed once you speak to a medical professional:

  • Topical steroids – a dermatologist or a GP may prescribe you topical steroids if your eczema flare-ups get too bad, as they can help eliminate your symptoms. 
  • Topical calcineurin inhibitors (TCI) – an alternative to steroids that is still relatively new. TCIs could help with decreasing inflammation and soothing the symptoms of your flare-up. 
  • Oral tablets

How to stop my eczema from flaring up

While you can’t cure eczema, you can potentially decrease your chances of experiencing a flare-up. 

Keeping your skin moisturised and stress to a minimum are some of the most common ways that you can hopefully stop your eczema from flaring up. 

It’s also important to try and figure out what the triggers are for your eczema, which can help you avoid them and decrease your chances of a flare-up. Preventing a flare-up is always the best course of action, so try your best to stay on top of your triggers. 

When to see a dermatologist

If your eczema is getting worse, lasting longer than usual, or causing you so much pain that you can’t sleep or go about your daily routine, then make sure you speak to your doctor as soon as possible. 

If you’re struggling with eczema symptoms, get in touch with our dermatology team at London Medical. We can discuss the treatment options available for you and see what we can do to help you with your eczema flare-ups. 


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