Did you have eczema as a kid and now get hay fever as an adult? Does your child have red, itchy rashes while you or your partner have seasonal allergies or asthma? If so, it's no coincidence.
Studies show that if one or both parents have eczema, asthma, or seasonal allergies, their child is more likely to have eczema. What's more, children with the disease may be more at risk for getting allergies or asthma.
Scientists are still studying the link between the conditions. But understanding the connection can help you manage the disease.
What Is Eczema and Who Gets It?
Eczema is the term for a few different skin conditions. But most of the time, it refers to a common skin disease called atopic dermatitis, which causes a dry, itchy, red rash. If you scratch it, it can start to ooze and crust over. Do it over a long period of time, and your skin can get thick and dark.
Most people with eczema get it as children. Symptoms often improve by age 5 or 6, and flare-ups stop for more than half of kids by their teenage years. But many people still have the disease as adults, though their symptoms tend to be milder. It’s less common to get eczema for the first time as an adult.
The Eczema-Allergy Connection
Most types of eczema are not allergies. But the disease can flare up when you’re around things that cause an allergic reaction. Your body's immune system overreacts to substances, called allergens, that are usually not harmful. You might get hives, itching, swelling, sneezing, and a runny nose. Allergens can include:
- Dust mites
- Pet dander
- Some foods
Children with eczema are also more likely to have food allergies, such as to eggs, nuts, or milk. They often make eczema symptoms worse for kids but not for adults.
Research on the Link
At one time scientists thought that all types of eczema were caused by allergies. Now we know that the connection is more complicated. Researchers are still uncovering new details about the causes of eczema that may lead to better treatments. Some recent areas of study include:
Genes. Researchers have found that some people with the condition have a gene flaw that causes a lack of a type of protein, called filaggrin, in their skin. It helps form the protective outer layer of our skin and keeps out germs and more. A lack of filaggrin dries out and weakens that skin barrier. This makes skin vulnerable to irritants, like soaps and detergents. It also makes it easier for allergens to get into the body. Scientists believe that that makes people more sensitive to those allergens and even some foods.
How the body reacts to allergens. Some research has found that people with eczema may have a defect in their skin barrier. Small gaps in the skin make it dry out quickly, and let germs and allergens into the body. When allergens enter the skin, they prompt the body to make chemicals that lead to redness and swelling, called inflammation. Research also points to a problem with a type of white blood cell that releases chemicals that help control allergic reactions in the body. This may help explain why people with eczema have outbreaks when they’re around allergens.
Too many antibodies. Immunoglobulin E (IgE) is a type of antibody that plays a role in the body's allergic response. People with eczema have higher-than-normal levels of it. Researchers are working to understand why people with the skin condition make too much IgE and what role this may play in the disease.
Avoid Allergy Triggers to Prevent Flare-Ups
To manage eczema, you need to moisturize daily and take your medication as your doctor prescribed it. It also helps to avoid allergy triggers. Other tips:
- Keep an eczema journal. Write down where you were and what you were doing when your symptoms flared up. It can help you figure out what things might be triggering them. Share the journal with your doctor during appointments.
- Stay away from things that irritate your skin. Common ones include wool, soaps and detergents, perfume, chemicals, sand, and cigarette smoke.
- Avoid allergy triggers. Pollen, mold, pet dander, dust mites, and other allergens may make eczema flare up. You could try a dust-proof mattress and pillow covers, remove carpets, avoid contact with animals, and stay indoors when pollen counts are high.