Eczema – What Causes It?

구월동피부과 Eczema can be very uncomfortable and may interfere with sleep, work and play. It is more common in children, but can happen at any age. It often goes away on its own as people grow older, but it can return later in life.


Skin irritants such as perfumed soaps, bubble bath and hot water can trigger eczema flares. Food allergies (especially milk and eggs), stress and hormone changes in women during menstruation, can also cause flares.


Exactly what causes the condition is not fully known, but experts believe it’s due to a combination of factors. These include genetics, dry skin and disrupted or weakened skin barriers. People are more likely to develop eczema if other allergic diseases such as hay fever and asthma run in the family. Having an older mother may also increase a child’s chances of having the condition.

Certain triggers can make symptoms worse, such as itching, which can lead to continuous scratching and break the skin, allowing bacteria in and causing infection. Other irritants that can cause a flare-up are harsh soaps, detergents, fabrics such as wool and man-made fibers and hard physical activity. Abrupt temperature changes and sweating can also aggravate the skin.

Doctors can prescribe creams, ointments and oral medications to help treat the condition. Topical corticosteroid creams and ointments are anti-inflammatory medicines that can relieve the main symptoms of the disorder, such as inflammation and itching. Alternatively, doctors can prescribe antihistamines to help with itching during a flare-up. These can be sedating, which causes drowsiness, or non-sedating, which doesn’t. They can also prescribe medicated bandages, clothing or wet wraps to wear over areas of the body affected by eczema. Infected eczema, which involves fluid-filled blisters, can be treated with antibiotics.


Eczema appears as red, scaly or itchy skin rashes and bumps on various parts of the body — most often on the face, hands, feet, inside the elbows and behind the knees. The affected skin may become dry and flaky, and swell up in some areas. Itching is the main symptom and it can lead to scratching which worsens the rash. This creates a vicious circle where the scratching causes more itching and inflammation and the cycle continues until the skin becomes infected with bacteria or other microorganisms.

A flare-up is triggered by some things like cold or hot weather, contact with harsh chemicals or soaps, and pollens. About 30% of young children with severe eczema have food allergies (usually to cow’s milk), which makes their eczema much worse. Itching can also be triggered by certain medications, infections (like herpes simplex) or stress. Infected eczema can have pustules, yellow crusting or oozing and can be painful.

To help control eczema, apply moisturizers frequently and especially after showering and bathing. Use a humidifier if the air is too dry. Avoid irritants, such as wool clothing and stuffed animals or rough blankets. Occasionally, your doctor might prescribe topical corticosteroids and oral antihistamines to manage symptoms or prevent infection. Once the rash is under control, your doctor might recommend applying the medication less frequently — such as every weekend — to prevent a flare-up.


Medications, avoiding irritants and moisturizing regularly can help control the itching of eczema. Atopic dermatitis can be triggered by soaps, detergents, perfumes, pollen, pets and certain foods. During flare-ups, itching can lead to pain, fatigue and poor sleep. Skin infections caused by bacteria, fungus or viruses can also occur.

Moisturizers with ingredients such as ceramides, fatty acids and shea butter can help prevent dryness, itching, rashes and blisters. A wet wrap treatment may help during severe atopic dermatitis flare-ups, called oozing eczema or atopic dermatiosis (dyshidrotic eczema, nummular eczema, seborrheic dermatitis and stasis dermatitis).

Topical steroids, applied to the affected areas frequently, can relieve inflammation and itching. They can cause a slight sting when first applied but this goes away as the medication wears off. Antihistamines may also be used to reduce itching.

For atopic dermatitis that doesn’t respond to other medications, oral or injectable immunosuppressants may be used. These are expensive but usually covered by insurance. Dupixent (abuxetinib) is an injectable medication approved to treat adults and children with uncontrolled moderate-to-severe atopic dermatitis. It works by blocking off an overactive pathway of enzymes and limits the production of immune messengers that can cause inflammation. It can be combined with a topical corticosteroid. It’s not recommended for infants under the age of two, due to a risk of infection.


There is no cure for eczema, but the condition can be managed with proper treatment and prevention. If you or your child has eczema, see your doctor as soon as possible for diagnosis and treatment. Try at-home and prescription treatments until you find the ones that work best for your symptoms.

Keeping the skin moisturized can help keep it healthy and reduce flare-ups. Moisturize daily, especially after bathing. Apply a thick coat of lotion or ointment to lock in the moisture. Avoid harsh soaps, shower gels and shampoos. Use a humidifier to help keep the air in your home moist. Avoid irritants that can trigger flare-ups, such as wool fibers and scratchy fabrics. Avoid pollens, mold, dust mites, dog or cat dander, and extreme hot or cold temperatures.

A good diet and stress management can help control eczema. If you think your child may have food allergies, try eliminating foods from the diet that cause flare-ups to see if the eczema improves. Infections can also cause a flare-up, so it is important to see a doctor if you or your child develops fever blisters (cold sores), an infection or a weeping rash.

Some children with eczema have a genetic tendency to have the condition. They are at a higher risk of developing food allergies, asthma and hay fever later in life.