Also called Atopic Dermatitis, eczema is a skin condition that can cause symptoms like itching, dry skin, redness, and inflammation on the skin. The exact cause is unknown and there is a range of factors that may contribute to the development of eczema, including genetic and environmental factors.
According to the Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy, 30% of infants with eczema with a family history of allergy will develop a food allergy, and up to 40% develop hay fever or asthma.
In addition to this link, what research has shown is that there are certain things that can cause an eczema flare-up. Here are a few to look out for:
Not all people with eczema will be triggered by food and not all foods trigger eczema. However, there are a few foods that research has shown are more likely to cause eczema flare-ups, so you may wish to monitor your diet and track your symptoms. There are also certain people who are more prone to eczema flare-ups from food, including babies and children with moderate to severe eczema.
In Australia, the most common triggers for food allergies include eggs, cow’s milk, soy, fish and shellfish, peanuts, tree nuts, sesame and wheat. Studies have shown that there are other foods which tend to trigger eczema specifically, including colours, preservatives and a compound called Balsam of Peru that’s found in citrus fruits, tomatoes, and spices including cinnamon, vanilla, and cloves as well as chocolate and some colas.
Rather than restricting all of these foods, it’s worth trying an elimination diet (developed in conjunction with a GP or clinical immunologist) to determine which food is to blame. It’s also a good idea to keep a journal of which foods you or your child are eating, and tracking eczema symptoms. With the help of a health professional, you may be able to make a connection between the food you’re eating and the severity of your symptoms.
Dry skin is caused by a number of environmental factors that can change depending on the season.
Cool, dry weather tends to cause dry skin as the lack of humidity can sap moisture from the skin. The skin can then become flaky, itchy and irritated. We also tend to take more hot showers and baths during the cooler months, which, while warming and relaxing, can also strip the skin of its natural oils.
On the other hand, hot weather can also be problematic for people with eczema. Spending too much time in the water can lead to dry skin. The chlorine in pools tends to cause dry skin, as does the salt from the ocean. Sweating can also dry out the skin and make eczema symptoms worse.
There are a number of things that you can do to care for your skin during winter, including bathing in lukewarm water and applying moisturizer afterwards. In the summer, if you go swimming, be sure to bathe after to wash off any salt or chemicals, and apply moisturizer. A humidifier can help to put moisture back into the air during particularly dry weather, while air conditioning and fans can help to regulate the body temperature and reduce sweating in summer.
We know that pets can have positive effects on your family — but they can also be responsible for causing flare-ups in people with eczema. According to the National Asthma Council Australia, cats, dogs, guinea pigs, horses, mice and rats can all trigger allergies or asthma in some people.
It’s not the pets themselves that are the issue, but their skin and bodily fluids. Pet dander is tiny flakes of skin that can be extremely irritating for some people. Saliva, urine, and faeces can also be problematic, even when there are no traces visible to the naked eye. Another issue is that pets tend to carry allergens into the home via their coats, which can spread onto furniture or through the air.
It’s likely that you won’t want to remove your furry friend from your home, but there are a few things you can do to reduce the chances of a pet-related eczema flare-up. Regularly vacuum the home using a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter to remove dander as well as dust and pollen that your pet may have carried inside. Wash your hands after touching your pet, and don’t allow them onto furniture and especially not into bedrooms. Try not to wash your pet too regularly, as this can dry out their skin and make it flakier.
Stress can affect the body in lots of different ways — including compromising the immune system. A 2012 study found that stress can significantly effect eczema both directly and indirectly by affecting the bodies immune response and skin barrier function.
While it’s not practical or even desirable to avoid stress altogether, there are thankfully many different ways that you can learn to manage it. Try practising yoga and medication, using a journal, exercising, getting plenty of sleep and spending time with people you love. If you’re having difficulty managing stress on your own, speak to your GP about management strategies.
Even if you’re not applying perfume or aftershave every day, most of us are exposed to fragrances through products like soaps, detergents and washing powder. The residue of these fragrances that are left on our skin, bedding or clothes can cause eczema flare-ups.
When shopping for personal items like face wash, moisturizer, and baby wipes, be sure to look for items labelled ‘fragrance-free’. If in doubt, ask your local Capital Chemist pharmacist.
When you have dry, itchy and irritated skin, it can be incredibly difficult not to scratch — especially for young children and babies. While it may provide a feeling of temporary relief, scratching the skin can make eczema symptoms even worse and even leave the skin vulnerable to infection.
Moisturizers and topical treatments can provide relief. If you find that you’re scratching your skin while you’re asleep, taking an antihistamine before bed may help to relieve the itch. Speak to your GP or Capital Chemist pharmacist about whether this is the right treatment for you and your symptoms.
For children and babies, be sure to keep nails short and consider mittens, especially during the night time, to prevent scratching.