The causes of eczema include a combination of factors.
Eczema is known to run in families and often develops alongside other conditions, such as asthma, dust mite allergy and hay fever. It is unknown how it is passed between generations, but if one parent has asthma or hay fever, there’s about a 50% chance that their child will have at least one of these diseases. 1
Signs and symptoms
Some common symptoms include;
- Very itchy, dry, swollen or sore patches of skin.
- The rash tends to come and go and at times can be crusty and scaly.
- Eczema can appear anywhere on the body, but the most common areas are inside the elbows, backs of the knees, face, behind the ears, buttocks and on the hands and feet.
- Sometimes there may be other changes in the skin, such as raised bumps, hives or an extra fold of skin under your eyes.
- Scratching can break the skin, allowing bacteria or viruses to enter and cause an infection.
Eczema affects everyone differently. It can be difficult to know if your skin is just excessively dry or you are suffering eczema.
The difference is dry skin is generally a temporary problem, and isn’t usually very itchy or inflamed. If you are suffering an itchy rash frequently, it is likely to be eczema. Visit your GP for proper diagnosis and advice. 2
Common causes of eczema
- Certain foods can be triggers for eczema.
- Allowing the skin to become too dry – as when it is rough or tight, this can cause an eczema flare up.
- Emotional stress is thought to be linked to worsening of eczema symptoms.
- Excessive heat can also aggravate the symptoms of eczema. This can happen during exercise or when bedding or nightwear is too heavy for the climate.
- Everyday environmental materials such as pollen, dust mites, pet dander, mould and dandruff can also trigger eczema, and women are especially prone to experiencing flare ups caused by fluctuating hormone levels in the body.
So, there really there are no single causes of eczema.
Have eczema? Could you also have allergies?
If you suffer from eczema, you may also have allergies. Doctors refer to eczema, allergies, and asthma as the ‘atopic triad’ because they often occur together.
In the past, scientists thought eczema was caused by allergies, but we now know it is not this simple. Research shows that some people with the condition have a gene flaw that causes a lack of a specific protein (filaggrin) in their skin. This protein’s role is in protecting the outer layer of our skin which is a barrier to bacteria and foreign bodies.
Without filaggrin the skin dries out and the barrier breaks down making the skin vulnerable to substances it is exposed to, such as soaps and detergents. It is also easier for allergens to enter the body, which makes people more sensitive to particular allergens, even food.
Research also highlights an issue with a type of white blood cell that helps control allergic reactions in the body. This could explain why people with eczema suffer flare ups when they are exposed to allergens. It has also been proven that eczema sufferers have higher than normal levels of antibodies. Researchers have yet to work out why eczema sufferers have this higher level and its role in this skin disease. 3