What makes eczema worse?

Understanding the causes of eczema can be helpful in preventing new cases. But if you or your child is already suffering, it also pays to know all the possible triggers. Factors that can cause eczema or make an existing case worse vary from one person to another, but often include:

Psychological factors, such as stress and anxiety

Irritants in the home or environment, such as dust mites, animal dander and certain plants

Foods. Check out the six common allergens eggs, peanuts, milk, fish, soy and wheat. In a landmark study, 82 per cent of children with eczema responded to challenges with one of these six [Acta Dermatol Venereol (Stockh) 1992; 176 (suppl): 34-7]

Drugs. In addition to those already mentioned in the main story, watch out for antimycotics, antivirals, tromantadine hydrochloride, antihistamines, antiparasitics, idoxuridine, acyclovir, phenothiazines, steroids, anaesthetics and anticancer drugs

Industrial and chemical irritants, such as detergents (shampoos, body washes and bubble baths containing sodium lauryl sulphate), biological washing powders and chlorine in swimming pools

Climate. Low altitudes and low humidity worsen symtoms; central heating and woollen or synthetic clothes can cause overheating and worsen itching

Food additives, such as preservatives (parabens E214-218, sodium benzoate E211, sorbic acid E200), antioxidants [BHA (butylated hydroxyani-sole) E320 and BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene) E321] and colourings (tartrazine E102, erythrosine E123, amaranth E127).