Personally speaking, why do I only get eczema in the spring and summer? My husband and teen-aged son also have an onset of eczema at the same exact time as me, yet two of my younger sons only get eczema in the winter. But why?
I decided to go to the experts for answers because I can’t imagine I’m the only one plagued with wondering why spring sets off two seasons of itchy bumps taking up residence on my elbows, inner corners of my arms and my hands – and the more I scratch, the more it spreads. It was only in the last few years that I suddenly began to have eczema flare-ups and once the summer is over, my skin returns to normal… like it never even happened. Does this happen to you?
“In some ways, eczema is a bit of a mystery. It can pop up in all seasons for many reasons. Causes run the gamut from genetic to an auto-immune issue. In general terms, eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis, is a non-contagious, recurrent inflammation of the skin. It is different from a true allergy, but eczema can get worse if a person is exposed to irritations.” says Dr. Barney Kenet.
Fayne L. Frey, MD, FAAD of Dermatology & Dermatological Surgery tells me that to date, there is no cure (although plenty out there say they have the miracle cure.) Eczema is often found in individuals with asthma and hay fever. The exact cause of seasonal outbreaks is also unknown. However, there seem to be many “triggers” that cause eczema to flare. According to Dr. Frey, they are:
- Dust mites (that hot forced air may blow around a home in the winter.)
- Pets (cats & dogs)
- Pollen (some people flare-up in the spring when pollen counts are high or in the fall when ragweed pollen counts are elevated.)
- Hot weather (may cause summer flareups)
- Low humidity (causes more water to evaporate from the skin which may lead to flare up in the winter)
- Certain foods, like nuts, eggs, soy products, may trigger eczema flare ups (possibly a particular food is eaten seasonally to cause a flare up)
- Hot showers or many showers (could account for flare-ups in the winter or summer for some.)
- Wool in blankets and clothing
When it comes to my younger sons and their eczema onset every winter, it was clear that it was due to our wood stove and thermostat zapping the moisture from our house. It was easy enough to treat by eliminating baths (when they were really little), limiting their showers to every other day and making sure I kept their skin moisturized daily. However, it wasn’t until Dr. Frey mentioned pollen as a culprit that I realized that it must be the trigger for my eczema each spring. Like clockwork when my oldest son, who has severe seasonal allergies, starts with his allergy symptoms, my eczema seems to also appear. I have seasonal allergies, but just not as bad as my son. It all makes sense now that pollen is my trigger.
Liz Fuller of Makeup Artistry Inc. brought up the idea that eczema could be triggered by dairy, as well. She had suffered from eczema since she was a baby, but at 43 decided to go dairy-free and within two weeks her eczema was gone and has not returned for over a year now. (I’m not ready to give up my ice cream and frozen yogurt just yet.) As a side note, dairy is also a culprit when it comes to cystic acne.
Now that we know some of the possible triggers, I wanted to find out some of the ways in which we can treat eczema to either help minimize it or at best, prevent the itching that can lead to it spreading to more areas.
Dr. Elizabeth Rostan of Charlotte Skin & Laser suggests using a humidifier in the winter to add moisture back into the air to prevent the skin from drying out. She says that severe cases are helped with soaks in diluted bleach baths and with wet wraps overnight. My one son and I are going to try AD RescueWear sleeves, which you can wear for wet wrap therapy. (Update: We LOVE this product, read our review!)
Dr. Chynna Steele of Steele Dermatology’s recommendations for combatting eczema are:
“It is best to keep the skin well moisturized year round to keep eczema flares at a minimum; also, to keep the skin covered (long sleeves and long pants) during the changes in season when environmental allergens are at their highest. Taking an antihistamine during “allergy season” also helps keep the inflammatory cells in the skin under control and prevent eczema flares. Use gentle, moisturizing soaps and fragrance and dye free soaps, detergents, hygiene products to keep skin calm.”
Dr. Barney Kenet says to look for products that say “emollient” and “fragrance free” when it comes to moisturizers. I’ve seen products out there that say they are specifically for eczema, but of course they typically come with a higher price tag.
According to Debra Jaliman M.D., Assistant Professor of Dermatology at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, you can also apply moisturizer containing glycerin, Shea butter or hyaluronic acid. Again, make sure they are fragrance free, as it can be irritating to your skin. Avoid all products with acid, such as lactic acid in glycolic acid. When using a sunscreen, avoid chemical sunscreens and only use a physical sunscreen containing a high concentration of zinc oxide as this is more soothing to the skin.
Pregnant and have eczema? While an anti-histamine like Benadryl is considered pregnancy safe, you may not want to take any medications during those 40 weeks out of erring on the side of caution. Dr. Steele recommends pure shea butter as a moisturizer since it is an anti-inflammatory for the skin and completely natural. She also suggests Vanicream, which has the seal of approval from the National Eczema Association, because it is also a great product that those with sensitive skin can use and they have some lighter weight options that are good for the summer. (I couldn’t determine if this was a cruelty free brand or not, though.)
I hope you found this article helpful! If you have eczema, I’d love to hear what has worked for you as well, so please leave a comment!