Andrea Bernhard, MD
FAMILY MEDICINE

Dr. Bernhard became a physician in order to make a positive difference in people’s lives. Her goal is to treat every patient with respect and dignity, and to deliver the highest quality care. Dr. Bernhard has lived in Hawaii for 10 years, and even completed her residency at the University of Hawaii. In her own words, “I get to care for wonderful people in one of the most beautiful places in the world.”

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Eczema Triggers and Irritants

The body has a tendency to become inflamed from time to time, and the inflammation does not happen as a reaction to any outside substance.

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Eczema Triggers and Irritants

What is eczema?

Eczema can be of two types based upon eczema irritants:

  • Atopic eczema: The body has a tendency to become inflamed from time to time, and the inflammation does not happen as a reaction to any outside substance.
  • Contact dermatitis: This is a reaction to a substance outside the body. Areas of the skin that come in contact with the eczema irritant become red and inflamed. If the person avoids the eczema irritant, the inflammation goes away.

The rest of this article deals with atopic eczema.

Triggers and irritants for atopic eczema

There are no apparent reasons for flare-ups, but some possible triggers are:

  • Soaps and detergents – Soaps and detergents make the skin dry and itchy and so should be avoided. Use a thick moisturizer substitute. Wear gloves with a cotton lining when using detergents.
  • Toiletries and perfume – It is best to avoid these. 
  • Clothing – Wear smooth fabrics like cotton rather than rough fabrics like wool. 
  • Temperature – Extreme hot and cold temperatures can trigger eczema.
  • Stress – Even though stress does not cause eczema, scratching in response to stress can lead to eczema.
  • Infection – Infection can increase the chances of eczema.
  • Dust mites – Most people with eczema are allergic to dust mites. However, it is not possible to live in a completely dust-free environment. Therefore it is recommended that such people try to reduce exposure by maintaining a relatively clean home and avoiding dusty places.
  • Pets – Some people are allergic to animal hair or saliva, and that triggers eczema. In such cases, it is worth removing the animals from the house.
  • Food allergy – Allergies to a certain food worsen eczema. Common food allergies include cow’s milk, eggs, fish, nuts, and wheat.

How do I know if food is making eczema worse?

  • Sometimes food allergies occur immediately with symptoms developing within two hours of eating. Symptoms include itching, redness and swelling around the mouth. In some cases, you may experience abdominal pain, nausea, wheezing, itchy eyes and sneezing.
  • Sometimes there is a delay in the symptoms of food allergy with signs showing up after 6-24 hours. Symptoms include worsening of itching and eczema. 

Keeping a food diary may help you confirm a food allergy, with the best way being to avoid it for a few weeks and see if symptoms become better, and then deliberately eat it and monitor for worsening symptoms.

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