Eczema Flare Ups Causes and How to Prevent Them

Eczema is a common skin condition characterized by itchy, dry, cracked, and inflamed skin. Also known as atopic dermatitis, eczema often goes through flare ups where symptoms worsen followed by periods of remission where symptoms improve. Eczema flare ups can be frustrating and uncomfortable. Understanding what eczema flare ups causes and learning how to prevent them is key to managing this chronic condition.


Eczema affects over 30 million Americans. It often first appears in infancy or early childhood but can develop at any age. Eczema is not contagious. While there is no definitive cure, the right treatments and preventative measures can help control symptoms. Flare ups are bound to happen, but minimizing triggers whenever possible helps reduce frequency and severity. This article will cover common causes of eczema flares and provide tips to avoid outbreaks.


Exposure to irritants is a major trigger for eczema flares. These irritants cause inflammation and disrupt the skin barrier which worsens symptoms. Some common irritants include:

  • Soaps and detergents – Harsh soaps, laundry detergents, dish soaps, shower gels and hand sanitizers often contain fragrances, preservatives and chemicals that irritate the skin.
  • Fabrics – Rough, scratchy fabrics like wool can cause itchiness and rashes. Tight fitting clothing can also trigger eczema flares.
  • Temperature and humidity – Very hot, cold or humid weather can worsen eczema. Dry air from indoor heating and air conditioning removes moisture from skin.
  • Environmental factors – Cigarette smoke, dust and air pollution are other environmental irritants.

To reduce exposure to irritants:

  • Use gentle, fragrance-free skin care and laundry products
  • Wear soft, breathable fabrics like cotton
  • Use a humidifier to add moisture to dry indoor air
  • Avoid cigarette smoke and other air pollutants


Allergies play a major role in eczema flares for many sufferers. Common triggers include pollen, pet dander, dust mites and mold. Food allergies to eggs, milk, soy, wheat and nuts may also worsen eczema. Allergic reactions cause increased inflammation.

To minimize allergic reactions:

  • Use high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters to reduce dust and allergens
  • Wash bedding weekly in hot water to kill dust mites
  • Consider allergy testing to identify problematic foods
  • Avoid outdoor activity on high pollen count days
  • Take antihistamines when allergy symptoms flare up

Stress and emotions

Stress directly impacts the immune system and can lead to increased inflammation. Eczema flares often occur during periods of high stress. Lack of sleep, common during stressful times, is another eczema trigger. Finding healthy ways to manage stress levels can help prevent outbreaks.

To minimize stress:

  • Practice relaxation techniques such as yoga, deep breathing and meditation
  • Get regular exercise to reduce anxiety and improve sleep
  • Maintain a consistent bedtime routine and aim for 6-8 hours of sleep
  • Talk to a therapist or counselor if stress becomes overwhelming


Eczema’s itch-scratch cycle can lead to broken, damaged skin which allows bacteria, viruses and fungi to penetrate and cause infection. Infections further weaken the skin barrier triggering more inflammation and eczema flares.

To prevent infections:

  • Keep skin moisturized to maintain barrier function
  • Avoid scratching – trim nails and cover with bandages if needed
  • Treat cuts and abrasions with antibiotic ointment
  • Watch for signs of infection like honey colored crusting, swelling and fever
  • See a doctor for evaluation if infection is suspected


Hormonal changes and fluctuations can worsen eczema, especially in women. Puberty, menstruation, pregnancy and menopause are common trigger points. Stress hormones like cortisol also directly impact inflammation.

To minimize hormonal flares:

  • Track symptoms monthly to identify patterns related to menstruation
  • Make adjustments to your skin care routine during hormonal changes
  • Practice regular stress management techniques

Weather and Seasons

As mentioned earlier, weather impacts eczema by affecting skin dryness and irritation. Cold, dry winter air tends to worsen symptoms while warm, humid summer air helps improve skin barrier function. However, heat and sweating during summer can also trigger flares in some people.

Tips for minimizing seasonal flares:

  • Use gentle cleansers and thicker moisturizers during winter
  • Run a humidifier to add moisture back into your home
  • Stay cool during summer by avoiding direct sun, wearing breathable fabrics and using cooling fans
  • Be aware of pollen counts which peak at different times in different regions
  • Have flare treatment plans ready before seasonal shifts


While food allergies and sensitivities trigger some cases of eczema, an overall nutrient deficient diet can also worsen symptoms. Key nutrients for healthy skin include vitamin D, vitamin C, vitamin E, zinc and omega 3 fatty acids. Alcohol and spicy foods may also exacerbate eczema flares in some people.

Improving your diet can help strengthen skin barrier function and reduce inflammation.

  • Eat more foods rich in eczema fighting nutrients – fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, fatty fish
  • Take supplements to fill dietary gaps
  • Identify and eliminate problem foods through an elimination diet
  • Stay hydrated – aim for 8 glasses of water daily
  • Limit alcohol which can dehydrate skin
  • Reduce inflammatory foods like processed carbs, fried foods and sugar

Preventing and Treating Eczema Flares

While you can’t always prevent eczema flares, avoiding triggers whenever possible can significantly reduce frequency and severity. Pay attention to your unique flare patterns and adjust your environment, schedule and self-care routines accordingly. Have a solid flare treatment plan in place so you can take action at the first signs of a flare up. This may include stepping up moisturizer use, taking antihistamines, applying medicated ointments, seeing your doctor for prescription treatments, and managing stress levels.

With the right prevention and treatment approach, eczema flares do not have to rule your life. Know your triggers, treat flares early and be patient with yourself on the challenging days. Your skin will thank you.


Eczema is a complex condition with many potential triggers like irritants, allergies, stress, infections, hormones, weather and diet. While flares can’t always be avoided, identifying and minimizing triggers can help reduce outbreaks. Prevention is key, along with having an effective treatment plan in place for when flares do strike. With the right lifestyle adjustments and skin care routine, eczema flare ups causes can be managed for a lifetime.

Leave a comment