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What Causes Eczema to Flare Up: Eczema Symptoms and Prevention

April 19th, 2017 | 2 min. read

By Kevin Achille Keller, M.D.

Eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis, is a chronic condition that causes inflamed, itchy, irritated skin. Eczema is a common disease, especially among children, but can affect anyone, regardless of age, race or gender.

What Causes Eczema?

Eczema is caused by a protein defect in the epidermis, which is the body’s first line of defense against skin irritants and allergens.

Often, eczema occurs as a response to an allergen, usually in something we eat or come in contact with in our environment. While these sensitivities are not the root cause of eczema, they do contribute greatly to eczema flare-ups.

While eczema can affect anyone, there are factors that make a person more susceptible to the disease. Children, in particular, are most affected; usually the onset of eczema occurs the age of five. Other risk factors for developing eczema include a family history of eczema, being female, and increased contact with calcium carbonate in water.

Symptoms of Eczema

While eczema generally causes itchy, inflamed patches of skin, the symptoms can vary greatly by age.

For infants and toddlers up to age two, eczema can present as an itchy, crusty, red region on the extensor surface of the skin. The extensor surface is the skin on either side of a joint.

For example, in children, you might see eczema on the inner forearm, or on the back of the leg. 


Babies generally do not get eczema in their diaper region, or on their scalp. If you notice red itchy inflamed skin outside these areas, you should schedule a visit to the pediatrician to rule out eczema.

In children ages two to sixteen, eczema is more often seen as a plaque on the skin. Teens’ skin may appear to be dirty, particularly on the neck. Plaques at this age are also seen more on flexor areas of the skin, which are the parts of the body where the joints bend. So, older children and teens are more likely to get eczema flare-ups on their inner elbows or behind their knees.

In adults over sixteen, eczema is primarily seen on flexor areas only.

Reduce and Prevent Flare-Ups

While there is no cure for eczema, you can manage the disease by focusing on symptom prevention to avoid what causes eczema to flare up for you.

These tips may help prevent eczema outbreaks:

  • Avoid being in extreme heat, or getting overly sweaty.
  • Avoid dry air. This can be difficult, especially in winter months. It may help to have a humidifier in your home or office to combat dry air.
  • Keep stress levels low by practicing every day stress-relieving techniques.
  • Stay away from harshly scented perfumes, detergents and soaps.
  • Don’t wear wool or synthetic fibers like polyester. These fibers can irritate the skin. Instead, try to wear clothing that is 100% cotton.

Your doctor may also recommend that you use a thick, unscented cream or oil-based moisturizer daily to help soothe skin and retain moisture.

Left untreated, eczema can interfere with your daily life. If you have symptoms of eczema, contact PartnerMD today or find a PartnerMD physician to learn how we can help manage your symptoms and prevent future flare-ups.

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Kevin Achille Keller, M.D.