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A person scratching their arm

How to Manage Eczema Flare-ups

What Triggers Eczema

If you’re one of the 31 million people who struggle with eczema, you know how frustrating and painful an eczema rash can be. According to the National Eczema Association, one in 10 people will develop eczema in their lifetime, with the first outbreak typically occurring during childhood.

Almost 10 million children experience eczema, and about one third of those children have a moderate to severe form of the disease.

Eczema is a group of skin conditions. The American Academy of Dermatology Association categorizes the different types of eczema as:

  • Atopic dermatitis (AD)
  • Neurodermatitis
  • Contact dermatitis
  • Dyshidrotic eczema
  • Nummular eczema
  • Seborrheic dermatitis
  • Stasis dermatitis

Eczema Symptoms


It’s important to remember that eczema is not contagious, nor does it look the same on every person. How eczema shows itself on each person depends on a variety of factors, so every case can be different.

Typically, eczema starts as an itchy patch of skin that becomes worse and worse as someone with eczema scratches the area because scratching tends to make the area itch more.

Unfortunately, this cycle of itching and scratching can continue until the skin is injured or torn.

Other signs, besides itching, that might indicate eczema are:

  • Inflamed skin
  • Rough, leathery patches
  • Scaly and shiny patches
  • Crusting
  • Oozing

Causes and Triggers

What causes eczema is unknown. However, researchers think that a combination of a person’s genetic makeup and environmental triggers are involved.

Most people with eczema have a very reactive immune system, which can cause inflammation when triggered. It’s this inflammation that often causes the hallmark itching and pain associated with eczema.

Another factor that may cause eczema is a gene mutation connected to the gene that creates a protein called filaggrin. Filaggrin is vital to healthy skin. In people with eczema, a lack of filaggrin dries out the skin allows bacteria and viruses in, making their skin prone to infection.

External irritants can trigger an eczema reaction. Products in shampoos, detergents, soap, lotions, and cleaning agents can all trigger itching. Even products or substances that we don’t think of as a traditional irritant may cause eczema, like fruit juice or metals. Each person may have different reactions to substances, and not all reactions are the same.

A few common irritants include:

  • Soaps and body wash
  • Fragrances
  • Cigarette smoke
  • Metals (primarily nickel)
  • Fabrics like wool or polyester
  • Formaldehyde
  • Lotions
  • Glues and adhesive
  • Latex
  • Antibacterial ointment
  • Tattoo ink
  • Chemicals used in leather or plastics

Emotional stress can also be an eczema trigger. Though how stress directly causes eczema is unknown, many eczema sufferers say stress can aggravate their symptoms.

Eczema Management Tips

Though there’s no cure for eczema, there are ways to avoid flare-ups and manage the symptoms. Because eczema can play out differently in each person, being aware of eczema triggers and what interventions are effective can make all the difference.

Limit Exposure to Irritants

It takes a little bit of work to determine which substances trigger a person’s eczema. However, some items are known to trigger eczema in very sensitive people, like scented lotions and household cleaning agents.

Avoid these products by looking for the words “unscented” on the label. Wear gloves when washing the dishes or doing chores to keep cleansing agents and debris from touching the skin. You should also test skincare products on small patches of skin before applying them to large portions of the body.

Avoiding cigarette smoke and smoke from barbecues and campfires can also help reduce eczema flare-ups.

Alleviate Dryness

Keeping the skin hydrated with fragrance-free moisturizers should be part of the skin-care routine for a person with eczema.

Warm (not hot) soaks in water mixed oils or colloidal oatmeal can soothe itching and prevent dryness. Applying moisturizer within five minutes of a bath can lock moisture into the skin, keeping it from losing water. Cover the skin in harsh weather, especially when exposed to wind and cold.

If the air is dry in the home, a humidifier can introduce a bit of moisture into the environment, making skin less prone to dryness.

Reduce Stress

It’s impossible to avoid stress entirely, but people who struggle with eczema can benefit greatly from stress management techniques.

Unfortunately, the experience of having eczema can bring about its own stressful emotions. The pain, itching, and tenderness can cause stress to rise, bringing about more eczema, which is why stress reduction is so vital to managing eczema.

Learning how to curb stress, avoiding the source of stress, and obtaining plenty of rest, can help keep eczema at bay.

When to See a Doctor

Obtaining an initial diagnosis from a doctor is necessary, because eczema can be mistaken for other skin problems. A doctor can also prescribe anti-inflammatory or anti-itching medication or suggest over-the-counter medication to target problem areas.

People who are already diagnosed with eczema should contact their doctor if they experience the following symptoms:

  • Red, tender, scaly skin
  • Skin with cracks, blisters, or areas with bleeding
  • Painful, warm, swollen skin
  • Yellow drainage
  • Signs of streaking
  • Red areas that spread

Living with eczema has its challenges but working with a doctor to create a treatment plan can make handling eczema easier.