What Is An Eczema Flare Up

What Is An Eczema Flare-Up?

If you suffer from eczema yourself or know someone who does, you’re familiar with the symptoms of a flare up: redness, inflammation, incessant itch. The flare up itself can be brought on by certain environmental irritants like animal dander, wool clothing and carpets, soap, some perfumes and fragrances, as well as triggers from within such as emotional stress and diet1-3.

Why do flare ups occur?

The actual cause of eczema flare ups, in terms of what’s happening within the skin, is extremely complex and not fully understood. However, it is known to be a type of elevated immune response, where the body overreacts to chemicals it has identified as allergens4.  Part of the problem lies with the skin barrier. In normal, healthy skin the barrier is strong and continuous, providing a good defence against environmental allergens and irritants, while also keeping the skin hydrated from within. People with eczema, however, have a disrupted skin barrier. Even when it appears normal, there are gaps in the barrier at a microscopic level which allows water to escape more rapidly (causing dry skin) and potential irritants to breach the body’s first line of defence5.  This triggers the next line of defence—the immune response—which has the unfortunate side-effect of inducing the flare up symptoms.

Managing eczema flare ups

If you or your child have eczema, the most important step is to discuss it with your doctor. Eczema is different for everyone and they can help you identify which specific triggers might be worsening the condition, as well as recommending treatments. Everyday strategies include the frequent use of moisturisers, which help support the skin barrier, and to avoid scratching as much as possible.

How long do flare ups last?

How long a flare up lasts really depends on the underlying cause, the type of eczema and how well it responds to treatment. Typically, if the triggering allergen is removed and a suitable course of treatment is followed, a flare up can resolve within a couple of weeks6.  Untreated, eczema can persist much longer, especially when scratching is involved, triggering an itch-scratch cycle. If you or your child experience eczema that doesn’t seem to respond to treatment, it’s important to check with your doctor, who will be able to recommend other options.

By Josh Townley, PhD.

Josh is a science writer with 10 years experience in the pharmaceutical and skincare world, first developing products in the R&D lab, then registering them in the regulatory department. He has a PhD in chemistry and a bachelor’s degree in forensic science.

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1. Atopic dermatitis [Internet]. Natl. Eczema Assoc. [cited 2020 Sep 24];Available from: https://nationaleczema.org/eczema/types-of-eczema/atopic-dermatitis/

2. World Allergy Organization. Atopic dermatitis [Internet]. 2018 [cited 2020 Sep 24];Available from: https://www.worldallergy.org/UserFiles/file/WAOAtopicDermatitisInfographic2018.pdf

3. Eczema – British Skin Foundation [Internet]. [cited 2020 Sep 24];Available from: https://knowyourskin.britishskinfoundation.org.uk/condition/eczema/

4. Allam J-P, Novak N. The pathophysiology of atopic eczema. Clin Exp Dermatol 2006;31(1):89–93.

5. Agrawal R, Woodfolk JA. Skin Barrier Defects in Atopic Dermatitis. Curr Allergy Asthma Rep 2014;14(5):433.

6. Harvard Health Publishing. Eczema [Internet]. Harv. Health2019 [cited 2021 Mar 3];Available from: https://www.health.harvard.edu/a_to_z/eczema-a-to-z