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Eczema causes and triggers

Lesley Dobson / 06 November 2014

Factors that play a part in triggering a flare up of eczema vary according to the type of eczema a person has. Here we list some of the best known causes and irritants of eczema.

Mature woman walking dog
Having a cold, bacterial or viral infection, and animal fur can affect your eczema

We don’t know yet why some people develop eczema and others don’t. However, your genes may play a part - if you have atopic eczema you are likely to have a history of asthma and/or hay fever in your family.

Atopic eczema is common in children, it often disappears by the age of 16, but it may simply carry on or it may reappear in adulthood.

With atopic eczema you’re likely to have dry, itchy skin most of the time, and to have flare-ups too, when the condition becomes worse for a period. These are often caused by triggers, which can vary from person to person.

What triggers a flare up of atopic eczema?

Often a trigger will be something in your environment, such as:

  • dust
  • being too hot (after exercise for instance)
  • soap and detergents
  • house dust mites
  • animal fur, hair and saliva, if you have been near animals.
  • pollen
  • cold weather
  • washing too often
  • rough clothing
  • food allergens can cause atopic eczema, but this is not common in adults

A change in your health, such as having a cold, or a bacterial or viral infection can have a dramatic effect on your eczema. If you have a bacterial infection, it can make your skin crusty and inflamed, and you may need antibiotics to tackle it.

Find out how to avoid catching a cold


May be a trigger, but this is not yet known for certain. Cigarette smoke, living in a hard water area, and by a road with a lot of traffic can also be triggers.

Find out how stress affects your health

What triggers Irritant Contact Dermatitis?

This form of eczema is caused when your skin is repeatedly in contact with weak irritants. These can include

  • soaps
  • detergents
  • resins
  • solvents

Irritant Contact Dermatitis is often associated with substances you come into contact with at work, and can be prevented using barrier creams and protective clothing.

You can also avoid direct contact with irritants such as soap and detergent by using soap substitutes, and plastic gloves with cotton liners when washing up.

Allergic contact dermatitis happens when your skin becomes allergic to a chemical that you are in contact with frequently over a long period. Your skin becomes sensitised to the chemical and reacts whenever it is in contact with even very small amounts of it.


The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.