It’s estimated that around 1.3 million people in the UK have eczema, and the number is steadily increasing.
Whether you experience fairly mild symptoms, or your flare ups are more frequent or severe, living with eczema can be extremely frustrating and uncomfortable.
While there is no cure for eczema which can stop it completely, there are certain triggers which can make symptoms worse. Knowing these can help you make the right diet and lifestyle choices to help keep flare ups at bay.
For National Eczema Week (12th to 18th September), we’re taking a look at some of the more common triggers which can cause eczema symptoms.
What is eczema?
Eczema is a non-contagious dry skin condition that can affect people of all ages.
While there are many types of eczema varying in symptoms and severity, atopic eczema, which tends to run in families, is the most common.
The word ‘atopic’ refers to the tendency to develop eczema, asthma, and hay fever. The most common characteristic of atopic eczema is the relentless itch which can lead to poor, disturbed sleep, discomfort and depression.
What causes eczema?
Although the exact cause of eczema isn’t known, it’s generally understood to involve an ‘over-reactive’ immune system.
Atopic eczema is caused by a few genetic and environmental factors. With atopic eczema, the skin barrier doesn’t work as it should. Skin without eczema provides an effective barrier, locking in crucial moisture and keeping bacteria out. Fats and oils help the skin stay moisturised and protect the cells from infection.
With eczema, the skin fails to produce enough fats and oils and isn’t able to retain moisture. The dry skin that results is made worse from exposure to things such as soap and detergents. Without an effective skin barrier, bacteria can pass through more easily, triggering inflammation and causing the skin to become red and irritated.
Common eczema triggers
Eczema triggers vary from person to person. Some are more sensitive to certain lotions, soaps, or cosmetics, while for others, diet can play a bigger part. Here are some of the more common eczema triggers:
Many factors in a person’s environment can make eczema worse. This can include heat, dust, woollen clothing, pets, soaps, detergents and other chemicals.
General illnesses and infections
The common cold can cause a flare-up while infections with bacteria or viruses can worsen eczema. Bacterial infection can make affected skin yellow and inflamed and may need specific treatment.
Stress and anxiety
Flare ups of eczema, as with other skin conditions, can be triggered by stress. Stress causes a spike in the hormone cortisol. When your body produces high amounts of cortisol, your skin can become oilier, triggering an eczema outbreak. Not only does stress cause eczema, but it can also make eczema outbreaks last longer, prolonging your stress and leading to a cycle of flare ups.
Food intolerances can occur when your body’s immune system mistakes a food protein as a threat, releasing antibodies to fight it. This reaction can result in a range of inflammatory symptoms, such as IBS and bloating, headaches, brain fog, skin complaints like eczema or acne, or joint pain.
While allergies are quite rare, affecting around only 2% of the population, it’s estimated that around 45% of UK adults have a food intolerance. While for some, the symptoms are quite mild and manageable, for others, the impact their trigger foods have on their health can be debilitating.
Managing your eczema symptoms
Eczema flare ups can be extremely stressful and uncomfortable, but there are steps you can take to reduce the severity and soothe your symptoms, including:
- Avoiding soaps and detergents that cause irritation
- Identifying and avoiding your trigger foods
- Moisturising well with emollients
- Taking antihistamines to prevent or reduce itching
- Wearing light, loose clothing
Take control of your diet
Getting to the bottom of a food intolerance can be frustrating. A common recommendation is the elimination diets, where you remove one food at a time for a few weeks to see how you feel. But this process can take a long time. And, although many of us react to several ingredients, the elimination diet is often abandoned when the first trigger food is found, leaving an incomplete picture of what’s causing the problem.
Get answers faster with Smartblood
When it comes to food intolerance testing, it’s important to do your research and choose a reputable laboratory testing company.
At Smartblood, we offer a comprehensive test to help you take control of your diet quickly and discover your own trigger foods.
Our home-to-laboratory service gives you fast, accurate results that pinpoint exactly which foods you are reacting to. Tests are completed in our accredited laboratory by trained experts, with clear, easy to understand results sent to you via email within three days.
Our tests are supported by a 30-minute telephone consultation with our BANT registered Nutritional Therapist to help you understand your results and make safe, sustainable changes to your diet.