While there may be no cure for atopic dermatitis, there are effective strategies for reducing its impact on a person’s life. These include reducing stress, avoiding triggers, moisturizing skin, and wearing loose-fitting clothing.

Atopic dermatitis — also known as eczema — is a chronic skin condition that involves dry, itchy, and inflamed skin. A flare-up refers to the acute worsening of symptoms. Generally, flare-ups can be uncomfortable and painful.

Preventing atopic dermatitis flare-ups can reduce discomfort and frustration, helping individuals to live more comfortably.

In this article, we explore the various strategies a person can use to prevent flare-ups and manage symptoms effectively.

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Stress is a common trigger for atopic dermatitis flare-ups. More than 30% of people with atopic dermatitis receive a diagnosis of depression, anxiety, or both.

When the body is under stress, it releases hormones such as cortisol, which can cause inflammation and worsen symptoms. Managing stress is an essential part of preventing flare-ups. This might include the following measures:

Learn more about the link between stress and eczema.

One of the main characteristics of atopic dermatitis is dry and sensitive skin. This is because the condition causes defects in the stratum corneum, or the skin barrier. To help prevent flare-ups, it is crucial to maintain optimal skin hydration.

Some tips for avoiding dry skin include:

  • Regularly moisturizing: Using over-the-counter (OTC) treatments such as moisturizing creams, lotions, or ointments helps to keep the skin hydrated. Individuals should apply fragrance-free, hypoallergenic moisturizers after bathing or throughout the day as necessary.
  • Taking short, lukewarm showers: Hot water can cause the skin to dry out. The National Eczema Association (NEA) recommends the following for people with atopic dermatitis:
    • taking short, lukewarm showers or baths
    • avoiding scrubbing the skin with harsh soaps or loofahs
    • using gentle cleansers, typically unscented, fragrance-free, and dye-free
  • Using a humidifier: Dry air is a common trigger for flare-ups, so experts may suggest using a humidifier to increase the amount of moisture in the air. Individuals should use humidifiers with caution, as too much moisture can also be a trigger.
  • Using wet wrap therapy: Wet wrap therapy is an effective treatment for severe flare-ups. According to a 2020 survey, 90.4% of skin specialists concluded that wet wrap therapy can help topical medications, such as corticosteroids, work more effectively. They may also help prevent itching, as they provide a protective barrier to the skin.

Learn more about oatmeal baths for atopic dermatitis.

Identifying and avoiding irritants and triggers is a crucial step for preventing atopic dermatitis flare-ups. Common irritants include:

Learn more about what triggers atopic dermatitis.

Wearing tight-fitting clothing can cause friction and irritation, which may contribute to flare-ups. Choosing loose, breathable clothing can help reduce these risks.

Some atopic dermatitis-friendly tips include:

  • Opting for loose-fitting fabrics: This type of fabric can allow air to circulate the skin, reducing the risk of friction-induced irritation.
  • Layering clothing: Layering can help regulate the body temperature without the need for tight clothing. It also provides extra insulation during colder weather.
  • Avoiding harsh fabrics: Clothing with rough textures or pronounced seams can rub against the skin and cause irritation. Soft, smooth fabrics are less likely to cause irritation.
  • Wearing certain natural fabrics: Wool and synthetic materials — such as polyester and nylon — may cause overheating, sweating, and irritation. Natural materials such as cotton, bamboo, lyocell, and silk are good alternatives.

Environmental factors such as dust, smoke, and pet dander can exacerbate atopic dermatitis symptoms. To help prevent flare-ups, a person can take measures to minimize exposure to these irritants, including:

  • Allergen-proof bedding: Washing bedding regularly in hot water and using allergen-proof covers can help reduce exposure to dust mites.
  • Smoke-free environment: Encouraging a smoke-free home environment can be beneficial, as cigarette smoke can irritate the skin and worsen eczema symptoms.
  • Manage pet allergens: If individuals have pets, regular grooming can reduce shedding and dander. Keeping pets out of the bedroom and investing in air purifiers can help filter out allergens.

While the strategies discussed in this article can help manage atopic dermatitis, there are times when seeking professional help is crucial. If flare-ups become severe, persistent, or show signs of infection, it is essential to consult a dermatologist promptly.

A dermatologist can recommend stronger medications — such as topical steroids or immunosuppressants — to control symptoms effectively. They can also help identify specific triggers and tailor a treatment plan to an individual’s needs.

Timely intervention can prevent complications and discomfort.

Preventing atopic dermatitis flare-ups requires a holistic approach that addresses various aspects of a person’s life, from managing stress to maintaining proper skin care and avoiding common irritants.

By incorporating relaxation techniques, moisturizing the skin regularly, and making mindful choices regarding clothing and potential triggers, a person can significantly reduce the frequency and severity of flare-ups.

It is essential to work closely with a dermatologist to develop a personalized management plan, including prescription medications and topical treatments. These strategies can empower individuals to regain control over atopic dermatitis and enjoy healthier, more comfortable skin.