What Causes Eczema?

Eczema is a common skin condition[1] that affects millions of people in the U.S. How do you know if you might have eczema, and does having diabetes put you at risk? Read on to learn more.

What is eczema?

Also known as atopic dermatitis, “eczema is an inflammatory skin condition that causes dry skin, itchy skin, rashes, scaly patches, blisters, and skin infections,” according to the National Eczema Association[2]. While it’s common in children, people of any age can get eczema. This is a chronic skin condition that can flare up periodically.

There are actually several types of eczema, including:

However, atopic dermatitis is the most common type, affecting more than[3] 9.6 million children and 16.5 million adults in the U.S.

Eczema in adolescents and adults tends to occur on the hands, neck, inner elbows, ankles, knees, feet, and around the eyes. It’s not contagious and there is no cure for eczema.

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What are the symptoms of eczema?

Symptoms of eczema can vary from person to person, but they almost always include itching. Scratching the itch then causes a rash to appear. Other symptoms of eczema can be:

Someone who has had eczema for years may have skin that is permanently thickened and has a leathery texture due to scratching, says the American Academy of Dermatology Association[5]. The skin may always itch, as well.

Chronic eczema can also lead to anxiety and depression[6] as a result of constant itching, discomfort, and trouble sleeping[7]. A person with eczema may be embarrassed or ashamed of their condition and may isolate themselves as a result.

What causes eczema?

Several factors are thought to cause eczema:

The National Eczema Association states that research shows that some people have a mutation of the gene that creates filaggrin[10]. Filaggrin is a protein that helps maintain a protective barrier on the top layer of the skin (called the epidermal barrier). If there isn’t enough filaggrin, moisture can easily escape, and bacteria and viruses can enter. This explains why many people with eczema have very dry and infection-prone skin.

Dry skin, irritants (such as harsh soap or laundry detergent), and emotional stress can trigger eczema flare-ups.

How is eczema diagnosed?

Your health care provider can diagnose eczema by examining your skin, looking for common signs such as dry skin[11] and redness. They may do an allergy skin test, certain blood tests, or a skin biopsy to rule out other causes of your symptoms. Sharing your family history with your provider can also lead to a quicker diagnosis.

How is eczema treated?

While there is no cure for eczema, there are a number of ways to treat this condition. These include lifestyle changes, over-the-counter remedies, and prescription medication.

Lifestyle treatments for eczema include:

Over-the-counter remedies for eczema include:

(Always check with your provider before using these remedies).

Prescription medications for eczema include:

Other treatments that your provider may recommend include wet dressings (wrapping affected areas with topical steroids and wet bandages), light therapy (exposing the skin to sunlight or artificial ultraviolet light), relaxation and behavior modification techniques, and counseling.

How does having diabetes impact eczema?

A study looking at more than 61,000 adults, published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology[12] in 2015, found that people with eczema:

In addition, the researchers discovered that people with eczema were also more likely to have prediabetes[15] or diabetes compared with people without eczema. People who have diabetes are more prone to developing skin conditions, which can include eczema, as well as psoriasis, and skin infections.

Aiming to keep blood sugars[16] within your target range as much as possible may help prevent or reduce flare-ups of eczema, as well as other skin issues.

To learn more about eczema and ways to treat it, visit the National Eczema Association’s website[17].

Want to learn more about diabetes and skin care? Read “Skin Cancer: Types, Risk Factors, Prevention, and More,”[18] “Diabetes and Your Skin,”[19] “The Prescription for Dry Winter Skin”[20] and “Summertime Skin Care.”[21]

Endnotes:
  1. skin condition: https://dsm.diabetesselfmanagement.com/about-diabetes/general-diabetes-information/diabetes-and-your-skin-2/
  2. according to the National Eczema Association: https://nationaleczema.org/eczema/#:~:text=Eczema%20(eg%2Dzuh%2DMUH,most%20common%20symptom%20of%20eczema.
  3. affecting more than: https://nationaleczema.org/eczema/types-of-eczema/atopic-dermatitis/#:~:text=Atopic%20dermatitis%20(AD)%20is%20the,with%20other%20types%20of%20eczema.
  4. sign up for our free newsletters: https://dsm.diabetesselfmanagement.com/newsletter/
  5. says the American Academy of Dermatology Association: https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/eczema/types/atopic-dermatitis/symptoms
  6. depression: https://dsm.diabetesselfmanagement.com/blog/dealing-diabetes-depression/
  7. trouble sleeping: https://dsm.diabetesselfmanagement.com/managing-diabetes/general-health-issues/getting-the-sleep-you-need/
  8. asthma: https://dsm.diabetesselfmanagement.com/education/diabetes-and-asthma-is-there-a-link/
  9. Stress: https://dsm.diabetesselfmanagement.com/managing-diabetes/emotional-health/relaxation-techniques-for-stressful-times/
  10. gene that creates filaggrin: https://nationaleczema.org/eczema/types-of-eczema/atopic-dermatitis/#:~:text=Research%20shows%20that%20some%20people,top%20layer%20of%20the%20skin.
  11. dry skin: https://dsm.diabetesselfmanagement.com/about-diabetes/general-diabetes-information/prescription-dry-winter-skin/
  12. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25579484/
  13. high blood pressure: https://dsm.diabetesselfmanagement.com/education/treating-high-blood-pressure/
  14. high cholesterol: https://dsm.diabetesselfmanagement.com/education/your-cholesterol-questions-answered/
  15. prediabetes: https://dsm.diabetesselfmanagement.com/education/what-is-prediabetes-symptoms-treatments-and-more/
  16. blood sugars: https://dsm.diabetesselfmanagement.com/managing-diabetes/blood-glucose-management/blood-sugar-chart/
  17. National Eczema Association’s website: http://www.nationaleczema.org
  18. “Skin Cancer: Types, Risk Factors, Prevention, and More,”: https://dsm.diabetesselfmanagement.com/healthy-living/general-health/skin-cancer-types-risk-factors-prevention-and-more/
  19. “Diabetes and Your Skin,”: https://dsm.diabetesselfmanagement.com/about-diabetes/general-diabetes-information/diabetes-and-your-skin-2/
  20. “The Prescription for Dry Winter Skin”: https://dsm.diabetesselfmanagement.com/about-diabetes/general-diabetes-information/prescription-dry-winter-skin/
  21. “Summertime Skin Care.”: https://dsm.diabetesselfmanagement.com/blog/summertime-skin-care/

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