An introduction to the causes of eczema
There is no distinct cause of eczema but there are a number of contributing factors in each variation that can inspire a particular response from your immune system.
Sometimes there are triggers that are ubiquitous in every form, such as your diet or the health of your immune system.
Nevertheless, it is important to identify these stimulants so that you can take steps towards preventing an episode of eczema in the future.
The genes that you inherit can be considerably important when it comes to your predisposed susceptibility to eczema, especially in atopic eczema.
This is because your genes can make you more vulnerable to atopic illnesses like hayfever and asthma, increasing your chances of developing atopic or contact eczema as well.
There has even been evidence to suggest that the defective genes that inhibit your production of essential proteins like filaggrin can put you at risk of developing eczema as your skin is more likely to be dehydrated and sensitive without this compound.1
Weak immune system
The immune system is the body’s first line of defence against pathogens, preventing you from contracting common infections like the flu and stimulating a chemical reaction when you are injured, encouraging the healing process.
If your immune system is weakened by lifestyle habits or a degenerative illness, then this can influence how it functions and responds to different threats.
For example, the immune system can become over-stimulated by emotional stress, reacting disproportionately to irritants and allergens and releasing too many IgE anti-bodies that can exaggerate eczema symptoms and even inspire an episode.
The alternative to this scenario, is that the immune system can also become fatigued by the increased demand for inflammatory chemicals, and therefore will take longer to respond to a potential eczema stimulant, allowing for irritants and allergens to continue damaging the skin cells without any consequences.
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Your diet can either be a valuable tool in your arsenal or your Achilles heel when it comes to supporting the immune system.
If your diet contains high levels of histamine rich substances like caffeine, alcohol, processed fats and refined sugars, then this can place pressure on your immune system, encouraging it to release more inflammatory chemicals, worsening your eczema symptoms.
Poor nutrition can also upset your digestive system and increase the population of bad bacteria in your stomach. When your stomach is unable to expel impurities and toxins, they can linger in your system, sometimes even being perspired through your skin which can then weaken your epidermis and stimulate an eczema outbreak.
Dehydration can be a significant concern as well during this time as your skin will desperately be in need of water, and depriving it of liquid can cause the epidermis to become more brittle and susceptible to invasive pathogens.
Stress is a factor that can certainly exaggerate an episode of eczema and exhaust the immune system.
When you suffer from stress, it can stimulate your primordial ‘flight or fight’ instincts, causing your blood vessels to dilate and a surge of inflammatory chemicals like adrenalin to be released, preparing your body for rigorous physical exercise. In this state, our immune system can become oversensitive to the slightest threat and will eventually end up fatigued, and unable to respond adequately to any irritants or allergens.
Stress can also take a toll on your digestive system as well as your body will not be interested in moving your bowels during this time, which can either lead to bouts of constipation or diarrhoea, weakening the overall function of your stomach.
Your environment can also make you more vulnerable to an outbreak of eczema. This is largely due to the rise and fall of temperatures that you experience throughout the year as the seasons change.
Extreme heats and extreme colds can have an equally negative influence over your skin, making it dryer and more brittle. Some forms of eczema do appear during the winter months, as a combination of low humidity and hot air radiating from heating systems can suck the moisture out of your skin cells, causing irritation and eventual itchiness.
If your skin is malnourished and dehydrated, it can become more sensitive to irritants.
Products that contain harsh or abrasive chemicals, like disinfectants, detergents, perfumes, or even rubber gloves, can damage the epidermis and the delicate skin below, causing pain and inspiring a response from the immune system.
This injury to your skin can then make it easier for bacteria to inhabit the wound, permeating the weakened epidermis and triggering a secondary bacterial infection.
In outbreaks of contact or atopic eczema, allergens can play a vital role in triggering the inflammatory reaction that causes eczema to occur.
Your immune system will eventually recognise an allergic substance as a threat and will release inflammatory chemicals into your body, flooding your system with histamine and aggravating your dry, sensitive skin.
For example, when a hayfever sufferer comes into direct contact with certain types of pollen, the immune system will identify the spores as an allergen and react accordingly.