How Reducing Indoor Allergens Can Ease Your Eczema Symptoms

Eczema can be triggered by allergens and other irritants in your home. Here’s how to reduce your exposure to dust mites, pet dander, and more.

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Dust mites, harsh soaps, and pet dander are all common indoor allergens.Shutterstock (2)

More than 30 million people in the United States have eczema — a long-term condition that causes symptoms like dry, itchy skin which, when scratched, results in a red rash, according to the National Eczema Association (NEA). Although there is no cure for the condition, there are ways you can prevent a flare-up.

The most common type of eczemaatopic dermatitis, is caused by an allergic-like reaction to allergens or other irritants in the environment, including dust mites, pet dander, and mold.

"The most common indoor allergens that trigger eczema are dust mites and pets,” says Elizabeth Page, MD, a dermatologist at the Lahey Clinic, in Burlington, Massachusetts, and an instructor in dermatology at the Harvard Medical School in Boston, who notes that it’s especially important to keep your bedroom as allergen-free as possible.

Here are a few ways you can manage indoor allergens:

  • Avoid pets. There’s no such thing as a “hypoallergenic” breed of dog or cat, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology. The reason: People aren’t allergic to the pet’s hair — rather, they’re allergic to the pet’s saliva, urine, or skin flakes (also known as dander). Rabbits, mice, and hamsters can also carry allergens that trigger allergic eczema. If you can’t bear to part with your pets, at least keep them out of the bedroom and limit contact with them as much as possible.
  • Go after dust mites. Most people who have atopic eczema are allergic to dust mites. "Start in the bedroom," says Dr. Page. She tells people to buy plastic, zippered mattress and pillow covers and wash their bedding every one or two weeks in hot water (130°F or above). Other suggestions include keeping stuffed animals off the bed, removing carpets, and keeping the bedroom clutter-free.
  • Use an air filter. Air cleaners and vacuum cleaners that come with HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) filters can help reduce indoor allergens.
  • See an allergist. It's not possible to avoid all indoor allergens in your home or when you go to other people's homes. An allergist can prescribe medications that can reduce your symptoms, and may recommend allergy shots to decrease your reaction to dust, pet allergies, and other indoor allergens.

Indoor Irritants and Eczema Control

"Because people with eczema don't hold enough moisture in their skin, their skin can be more easily irritated than other people's,” Page says. One of the worst irritants for eczema is dry air, she explains.

Here are a few other ways to limit indoor irritants:

  • Avoid harsh soaps. Soaps that contain fragrances and dyes can be too harsh for people with eczema. Avoid washing in hot water; bathe in lukewarm water and use milder soaps like Dove. Soap substitutes like Cetaphil are also recommended. Laundry detergents and fabric softeners can also irritate eczema. Avoid detergents with perfumes and artificial coloring and use a second rinse cycle to remove more detergent residue.
  • Protect your hands. About 10 percent of Americans have hand eczema, according to the NEA. Avoid contact with household cleaners, gasoline, turpentine, and other solvents. Wear vinyl or plastic gloves while washing dishes to protect your hands from hot water and any chemicals that cause irritation.
  • Avoid getting overheated. Sweating makes eczema itching worse. Try to keep your indoor environment at a constant temperature between 68 and 75°F. Avoid synthetic clothing that holds in heat, and favor cotton or cotton blend materials.
  • Keep your environment smoke-free. Tobacco smoke has been shown to be an irritant for people with eczema, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. "Keep your home smoke-free," advises Page, "especially if you have children with eczema."

One of the best ways to manage eczema is to learn which irritants and allergens trigger an attack — and avoid them.