What Causes Eczema?

Eczema causes and treatment

If you’ve ever experienced an allergic reaction that caused your skin to itch and become sore and inflamed, no doubt you were uncomfortable until the symptoms passed. And you probably did everything you could to figure out what caused it, and then avoided that thing like the plague. Unfortunately, people with eczema have those symptoms, and worse, for days or weeks at a time, on and off for years—sometimes their whole lives. Not only is there no cure for eczema, but symptoms can also be triggered by any number of things, rather than just a single allergen that’s easily avoided.

Read on to find out more about eczema, what causes it, and how to treat it.

What is eczema?

Eczema is a broad term for a range of skin conditions that result in red, itchy inflamed patches on the skin. The symptoms range from mild to severe, and show up differently for each person who suffers from the condition. An estimated 35 million Americans have eczema, including 28 million with symptoms of atopic dermatitis, the most common form of eczema. Symptoms of atopic dermatitis include dry, itchy skin and scaly rashes on the face and the neck, inside the elbows, behind the knees, or on the hands or feet.   Atopic dermatitis usually begins during infancy or early childhood—an estimated 70% of people with the condition get it before their 5th birthday.

What are the different types of eczema?

Other types of eczema include contact eczema, allergic contact eczema, neurodermatitis, dyshidrotic eczema, nummular eczema, seborrheic eczema, and stasis eczema. Some forms of eczema are temporary and localized (such as those caused by scratching an itchy bug bite or touching poison ivy). Atopic dermatitis is a chronic form of eczema with no known cure. Some people outgrow their eczema, and others continue to have symptom flare-ups their whole lives.

What causes eczema?

No one knows the exact cause of eczema, but current research points to a combination of genetics, environmental factors, abnormalities in the outer skin barrier, and dysfunctional immune system. Although there is no known cure for eczema, symptom management requires identification and avoidance of triggers, which vary by individual and may include:

  • Chemical cleaners
  • Air fresheners
  • Perfumes
  • Hot water
  • Sunburn
  • Synthetic or prickly fabrics - wool, for example
  • Some shampoos and soaps
  • Some laundry detergents
  • Stress
  • Pet dander, dust mites, and mold
  • Food allergies
  • Low humidity
  • Bacterial or yeast infections on the skin
  • Other

It’s important to understand that although the list of irritants and allergies above may trigger eczema flare-ups, eczema itself is not an allergic reaction. Not everyone’s triggers will be the same. One of the first steps in atopic dermatitis treatment is identifying your personal triggers so you can learn to manage your symptoms.

What is the best treatment for eczema?

The best eczema treatment is different for each person, but the foundation of every treatment plan for atopic dermatitis should be a good skin care routine, avoidance of personal eczema triggers, and treatment of symptoms as they occur. When it comes to medications for atopic dermatitis, it is often a matter of trial and error to find what works best for each person. Options for medication for skin eczema may include:

  • Topical corticosteroids to reduce inflammation and itching
  • Light therapy to calm inflammation
  • Antibiotics for infections caused by bacteria entering damaged skin
  • Antihistamines to reduce itchiness and stop nighttime scratching
  • Immunosuppressant drugs to slow down an overactive immune system and allow the skin time to heal
  • Biologic drugs to precisely reduce the abnormal signal causing inflammation

Some people have experienced success in symptom management through alternative treatments such as:

  • Stress management (meditation, hypnosis, biofeedback)
  • Acupressure and massage
  • Substantial changes in diet - eliminating animal proteins

Be cautious of the wide variety of “‘treatments” offered through non-professional channels, however. Many alternative products contain a large number of extracts and oils that can induce a contact allergy and may make your skin worse instead of better.

Most importantly, the best treatment is the one that you plan with the help of your doctor.  

CDCRI in San Diego offers medical research studies to treat eczema

At California Dermatology and Clinical Research Institute, we are currently conducting a clinical research study on atopic dermatitis/eczema. Qualified candidates have had moderate to severe atopic dermatitis for at least one year, have had little response to topical treatments, and have eczema that affects at least 10% of their body surface area. If you are interested in receiving cutting-edge eczema treatment not yet available to the public, contact us for more information about our clinical studies. Call 760-203-3839 or fill out the form on our website.