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STRESS

How stress can cause atopic dermatitis or eczema flare-ups

It’s a never-ending cycle. You’re stressed and you get a flare-up. You get a flare-up and you get stressed. The fact is, anxiety and stress can often trigger AD flare-ups, making your itch even worse.1

When you’re feeling stressed, even the smallest everyday task can feel like a mountain to climb. Whether it’s meeting with friends, working up the enthusiasm to exercise, feeling confident in certain situations or simply getting a good night’s sleep, it can affect everything.2

Of course, reading about stress doesn’t sound all that relaxing. But we hope this page will help you feel a bit less, well, stressed about your stress!

Woman with eczema stood looking visibly stressed as she looks at her eczema flaring on her arm, other arm to forehead

Let’s take a look at the science

It can help to understand what’s going on in your body when you feel stressed, and how that affects your AD. Though this underlying link is not fully understood, it’s believed that people who feel stressed, especially in early childhood, may be more susceptible to developing AD.1

Higher stress levels have been shown to change your immunity to allergic responses by altering the composition of the immune cells under the skin and the way they respond to particular allergens.1,3

Increased stress is due to higher cortisol (the stress hormone) levels.1 These high cortisol levels can increase inflammation throughout the body, which can make your AD symptoms worse.1,4

Mental health

AD can take a toll on your mental health. Be sure to check-in with yourself – and consider how AD is really making you feel.

Learn more

Spotting the warning signs of stress

If you know what to look out for, you should be able to identify the symptoms of stress quickly and, hopefully, get things under control.

Symptoms of stress can be physical or mental and include:5

  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Stomach or chest pains
  • Increased heart rate
  • Difficulty concentrating or making decisions
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Constantly worrying
  • Forgetting things

Sometimes, stress can make your AD symptoms, such as lesions and itchiness, worse.6 If you’re feeling particularly itchy, and stressed, you may well develop an urge to scratch. Though this provides relief, it can leave you feeling even itchier than before.1,7 This uncomfortable experience is known as the itch-scratch cycle, which can make you even more anxious and stressed.1,7

Symptoms

Lets take an in-depth look at the signs and symptoms of AD. Learn how they appear on adults and children, and on different skin tones.

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Man with eczema looking up and thinking about the warning signs of stress that can cause eczema flare ups
Two happy women laughing together, sat against a window with natural light flooding through

Ways of reducing stress

Each of us will get stressed in different ways about various aspects of our lives. And, let’s be honest, there’s no miracle cure for feeling stressed. But spending some time discovering what makes you feel calm is one of the best investments you can make.

Trying some of these tips could be a good place to start:

  • Take deep breaths while listening to calming music or sounds from nature
  • Download a meditation app
  • Try yoga or tai chi
  • Go on regular walks
  • Get some exercise into your day
  • Enjoy the great outdoors
  • Distract yourself, for example by reading a book or taking up a hobby like painting, crafts or baking
Conversation

In any event, whether it’s stress or something else making living with AD that little bit harder, talk to your dermatologist.

They can help you find long-term control of your AD, which could help keep those stress levels down.

Treatment Guide

Treatments

This guide gives you the know-how you need to discuss treatments with your dermatologist.

Discover the guide
Sleep

Sleep

AD can make night-time a nightmare. If AD is getting between you and a good night's sleep, this page can help you see why.

Learn more
Managing AD

Managing AD

Feeling like you've tried everything to manage your AD? Don't lose hope. We've got the tips, tools and information you need to get closer to control.

Go to Managing AD

References

  1. Suarez AL et al. Acta Derm Venereol 2012;92(1):7–15.

  2. Zuberbier T et al. J Allergy Clin Immunol 2006;118:226–232.

  3. Wright R et al. J Allergy Clin Immunol 2004;113(6):1051–1057.

  4. Hannibal KE and Bishop MD. Phys Ther 2014;94(12):1816–1825.

  5. NHS UK. Stress. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/understanding-stress/. Accessed:July 2021.

  6. National Eczema Association. Eczema and Emotional Wellness. Available at: https://nationaleczema.org/eczema-emotional-wellness/. Accessed:July 2021.

  7. Harrison IP and Spada F. Medicines 2019;6(3):1–14.