Causes of atopic eczema 

Atopic eczema is likely to be caused by a combination of things.

People with atopic eczema often have very dry skin because their skin is unable to retain much moisture.

This dryness may make the skin more likely to react to certain triggers, causing it to become red and itchy.

You may be born with an increased likelihood of developing atopic eczema because of the genes you inherit from your parents.

Research has shown children who have one or both parents with atopic eczema, or who have other siblings with eczema, are more likely to develop it themselves.

Atopic eczema is not infectious, so it cannot be passed on through close contact.

Eczema triggers

There are a number of things that may trigger your eczema symptoms. These can vary from person to person.

Common triggers include:

  • irritants – such as soaps and detergents, including shampoo, washing-up liquid and bubble bath
  • environmental factors or allergens – such as cold and dry weather, dampness, and more specific things such as house dust mites, pet fur, pollen and moulds
  • food allergies – such as allergies to cows' milk, eggs, peanuts, soya or wheat
  • certain materials worn next to the skin – such as wool and synthetic fabrics
  • hormonal changes – women may find their symptoms get worse in the days before their period or during pregnancy
  • skin infections

Some people also report their symptoms get worse when the air is dry or dusty, or when they are stressed, sweaty, or too hot or too cold.

If you are diagnosed with atopic eczema, your GP will work with you to try to identify any triggers for your symptoms. Read more about diagnosing atopic eczema.

Page last reviewed: 25/11/2014

Next review due: 25/11/2016