Eczema, a common skin condition that affects millions of people, often starts during infancy and is characterized by skin inflammation due to dryness or exposure to certain environmental allergens.
Many adults with allergies or asthma had eczema as children.
Eczema, a highly itchy and inflammatory skin condition that affects 31.6 million Americans, typically starts in the first year of life and peaks in early childhood, says the National Eczema Association.
Causes of Eczema
Allergens, such as pets, perfumes, dyes, and food, can cause the condition to flare up unexpectedly, even in adults.
Dry air is a common trigger for eczema, as it can cause the moisture levels on the outermost layers of skin to dry out, resulting in roughness, flaking, and cracking.
This can leave the rest of the body susceptible to infection and illness, and irritation. Dry skin is often itchy and uncomfortable. However, it’s important to note that eczema can affect everyone differently.
Unfiltered, poorly circulated air can cause (or exacerbate) eczema flare-ups.
Studies suggest that more than 1 in 4 people with eczema also have asthma.
Volatile Organic Compound (VOC) Exposure
Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) are hazardous chemicals commonly found in indoor air, such as formaldehyde, benzene, propylene glycol, and acetone.
Harvard University and Kalstad University conducted a study that found exposure to high concentrations of VOCs increases the risk of developing allergies and asthma and makes a person 2.5 times more likely to develop eczema.
The NIH Study of Eczema
The National Institutes of Health’s research suggests that chemicals emitted from vehicle exhaust and used in the production of common products, such as spandex and memory foam mattresses, may lead to eczema during infancy.
“We have solid data establishing that pollutants are very likely behind increasing cases of atopic dermatitis,” Dr. Ian Myles, chief of the Epithelial Research Unit in the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Laboratory of Clinical Immunology and Microbiology.
Although genetics is a factor, the cause of eczema has been unknown. However, experts have observed that the incidence of eczema has increased 2-3 times in industrialized countries since the 1970s, suggesting that something in the environment is likely responsible.
Myles and his team studied eczema “hot spots” in the US and discovered that the most common toxins in the surrounding environment were diisocyanates and isocyanates. Diiocyanates are commonly used to produce various polyurethane products, including adhesives, flexible foams, and weather-resistant fabrics and carpets.
According to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), the chemicals diisocyanates and isocyanates used in the manufacturing process of polyurethane products are not likely to be toxic in the final products as long as they have been properly cured or dried by the manufacturer, except for the exposure risk for factory workers.
Research has linked many types of pollutants to eczema, including:
- fine particulate matter, which refers to particles ≤ 2.5 microns in diameter, also known as PM2.5
- nitrogen dioxide
- carbon monoxide
- sulfur dioxide and sulfate
These are the types of pollutants commonly present in large urban areas. Power plants, automobiles, construction sites, and industrial furnaces all release them into the environment.
Pay Attention to Your Air Quality
Poorly Ventilated Dusty Homes
While dust may appear to be an insignificant annoyance, it can significantly exacerbate eczema symptoms. Dust is not only a skin irritant but also contains high levels of toxic substances that can enter the bloodstream.
Many people, both adults and children, are allergic to dust mites, which are strongly associated with allergic reactions and eczema development. As confirmed by carbon dioxide level measurements, homes with spray foam tend to be dustier due to inadequate air circulation.
Mold spores can trigger allergic reactions and cause skin irritation. However, not all types of mold produce toxic compounds, and the link between mold exposure and eczema is still being researched. It is important to prevent and address any mold growth in homes or buildings to maintain good indoor air quality and prevent potential health issues.
Temperature and Humidity
Maintaining a comfortable indoor environment is crucial for eczema sufferers, and both temperature and humidity levels play an important role. Excessive heat and humidity can lead to excessive sweating, moisture retention, and bacterial growth, resulting in chronic itching and irritation.
Conversely, dry heat, such as that produced by indoor heating systems during the winter, can cause skin flaking, itching, and cracking. Individuals should aim for a moderate and temperate indoor environment to reduce eczema symptoms.
Poorly insulated or ventilated homes can make it difficult to maintain optimal temperature and humidity levels.
Eczema is Worse in Fall and Winter Months
During fall and winter, eczema can become more common due to the dry air. This can be especially problematic for students returning to school after summer vacation, as they may be exposed to more bacteria and viruses at school.
When the body’s protective layer is weakened due to dry skin, kids are more likely to experience flare-ups and get sick from infections.
Better Indoor Air Quality
Some air filtration systems might be able to remove mold, dust, and anything else like diisocyanates and isocyanates. Research which air filtration systems work best for you and your family.
Often times, if you call a restoration or water mitigation company whose main priority is to clean the air from mold/dust/etc. after a disaster, they will know which filters are best and can catch small dust and mold spores, making your indoor air crystal clean.