What does stress induced eczema look like?

“Cradle cap” in babies is a condition that doctors call seborrheic eczema or seborrheic dermatitis. It appears as oily, scaly patches on the scalp. In contrast, atopic dermatitis is more often found on the cheeks, though it can also affect the scalp. Also unlike eczema, cradle cap typically isn’t itchy. Usually cradle cap clears up without treatment in a few weeks or months.

The symptoms of eczema — which can include very dry or itchy skin that may crack and ooze clear liquid when scratched — are not constant.

During inflammatory eczema responses, the body — particularly the skin, the body’s largest organ — communicates with the brain through various sensations, such as pain, heat, itch, and discomfort.

How Stress Triggers Eczema

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8. Bekić S, Martinek V, Talapko J, Majnarić L, Vasilj Mihaljević M, Škrlec I. Atopic Dermatitis and Comorbidity. Healthcare. 2020;8(2):70. doi:10.3390/healthcare8020070

“One of the biggest barriers in managing stress and eczema is to be able to clearly recognize what the stressor is,” states Dr. Levenberg. “A specific stressor(s) is often challenging to identify or even change, and so a more general approach to stress reduction may be more helpful. Seek interventions that are known to lower stress and increase relaxation, such as; modifying lifestyle factors, managing emotions, getting adequate rest/sleep, eating a healthy diet, and regular exercise, to name a few.” Even one night of sleep loss can increase inflammation.

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What does stress induced eczema look like

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Dr. Levenberg goes on to discuss the vicious cycle that stressors can cause. “Stressors are likely to affect our health in general, and skin in particular, in a variety of different ways. Different types of stressors can lead to other kinds of stress, as well. For example, eczema’s hallmark symptom is the itch, which may cause an individual to have difficulty sleeping, which could also contribute to anxiety, creating a vicious cycle of multiple stressors on a patient.”

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Living With Eczema

Your skin’s outer layer protects the inner layers from irritants and infections. People with atopic dermatitis have dry skin that isn’t as protective. If you have eczema, use mild cleansers and a moisturizer after you wash. And don’t take hot showers or baths, or linger too long while showering or bathing.

2. Bieber T. Atopic Dermatitis. New England Journal of Medicine. 2008;358(14):1483-1494. doi:10.1056/nejmra074081

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How does stress affect the skin?

Research also suggests that stress makes it harder for your skin to recover from damage. This prolonged healing time can then induce further stress — contributing to the endless vicious cycle of stress and eczema.

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Caring for Dry Skin

Irritants can cause inflammation and itching, bringing on eczema. Harsh chemicals can cause a rash in anyone, but people with eczema may be sensitive to mild irritants, such as wool and synthetic fabrics, detergents, soaps, perfumes, and cosmetics. Stress or anxiety can cause a flare-up, too. So can sweating, along with wetting and drying your skin a lot, such as when you wash your hands. Cold, dry environments can also cause a flare.

3. Steinhoff M, Suárez A, Feramisco J, Koo J. Psychoneuroimmunology of Psychological Stress and Atopic Dermatitis: Pathophysiologic and Therapeutic Updates. Acta Dermato Venereologica. 2012;92(1):7-15. doi:10.2340/00015555-1188

13) BSIP / UIG, Getty Images

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When you encounter a stressful situation, the body has a physiological reaction, often referred to as the ‘fight or flight’ response. Originally a survival mechanism, it can lead to the body reacting to every day stress such as work pressures or family problems. During this physiological response, stress hormones, like cortisol, are released. When released in large amounts (for instance, when enduring ongoing, chronic stress), cortisol suppresses the immune system and increases inflammation throughout the body. This increase in inflammation extends to the skin worsening eczema symptoms.

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Eczema and Infections

Doctors don’t know exactly what causes atopic dermatitis, the most common form of eczema. Genes likely play a role. An immune system problem could create inflammation in the skin. Emotional problems aren’t a cause, but stress can make symptoms worse.

4. Rinaldi G. The Itch-Scratch Cycle: A Review of the Mechanisms. Dermatol Pract Concept. 2019:90-97. doi:10.5826/dpc.0902a03

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