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What causes atopic eczema?

The cause of atopic eczema is not fully understood, but it can be linked to a number of things.

  • How the skin behaves

    Our skin is there to protect us from infection and irritation. It produces fats and oils, which helps keep moisture in, as well as keeping the bad stuff out, like viruses and bacteria.

     

    In people who have atopic eczema, their skin doesn’t work as well as it should in doing this and doesn’t produce enough fats and oils, so it’s not able to keep hold of enough moisture, meaning it can become very dry, very quickly and is damaged a lot easier than healthy skin.

    This means that it isn’t well protected from allergens, irritants and other environmental factors as it would be if it was fully healthy, leading to inflammation.
  • Genetics

    Some people can be more prone to the disease than others. If you have a parent or sibling with the condition, you could be more susceptible to developing the skin condition, but it’s also not fully understood why this is the case.

The condition isn’t contagious, so cannot be caught or passed on to anyone.

How common is atopic eczema?

According to the National Eczema Society, one in five children and one in twelve adults have eczema, so it is a very common condition. In fact, it is becoming more common, and it’s thought that there are certain things that may be causing it, including increased pollution and our modern lifestyle factors.

Many children will grow out of the condition eventually, but it can continue into adulthood.

What can trigger an atopic eczema flare up?

Individuals also tend to have triggers that can cause the condition to flare up. This can vary dramatically from person to person, but it can include:

  • Dry skin
  • Contact with certain irritants, which can be soaps, shampoos, make up, detergent, dust, sand, cigarette smoke etc.
  • Food allergies or what you eat
  • Illness - even the common cold can cause a flare up in some people
  • Skin infections or other infections
  • Allergic reactions
  • Synthetic fabric, wool or other materials used to make clothing
  • Allergens such as pets, dust or pollen
  • The weather - for example if there’s low humidity
  • Getting too hot or too cold - extreme changes in temperature
  • Sweating
  • Hormones, such as before their period in women, or pregnancy
  • Stress
  • Pet dander
  • House dust mites
  • Scratching
  • Teething in babies

By understanding what triggers your atopic eczema, you can learn to avoid them, and hopefully stop a bad flare up.

Food and atopic eczema

Many people with atopic eczema also have food allergies, which again can cause the condition to flare up, though it’s not thought to cause you to develop it in the first place. Common food triggers for an atopic eczema flare up include:

  • Cow’s milk
  • Nuts, such as peanuts
  • Soy products
  • Fish, including shellfish
  • Eggs
  • Wheat
  • Gluten

This is not an extensive list of atopic eczema causes - you can work with a GP to try to find out what causes your atopic eczema to flare up, and then try to avoid them if you can in the future.

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