Eczema and Stress: How Are They Related?

12 April, 2021
Science has not been able to fully explain the relationship between eczema and stress. However, we know that such a relationship exists and there are also some hypotheses and possible explanations that may pave the way to a thorough understanding of the phenomenon.

Eczema and stress are a problematic pairing for everyone. They’re two health conditions that often go hand in hand and feed off each other. It is, without a doubt, a very annoying combination for which there’s no easy solution.

The skin is the most extensive organ of the body and one of those that most easily reflects the states of the mind. This is because the skin is directly related to the nervous system through sensitive terminals that send information to the brain and vice versa.

At the same time, stress causes the release of a series of substances that end up affecting the skin. This gives rise to various anomalies, including eczema. As you can see, the relationship between eczema and stress is direct and very close.

Eczema

The word eczema is a generic term for any inflammation of the skin. Such inflammation is categorized as dermatitis, with atopic dermatitis referring to that which results from stress. In other words, when we talk about eczema and stress, we’re actually talking about atopic dermatitis and stress.

Eczema appears when damage occurs to the skin’s external protective barrier. This is when inflammation appears; the skin becomes red and itchy in the affected area. It most often appears on the arms, knees, groin, and face.

In 85% of cases, the first episode of eczema occurs before the age of five. Experts also estimate that up to 20% of children and 1-2% of adults have had an eczema episode at some time in their lives. There are cases in which eczema becomes a chronic and recurrent disorder.

A woman with eczema on her neck.
Eczema, basically, is atopic dermatitis.

Stress and the skin

There are several mechanisms by which stress influences the skin. It all stems from the fact that stress modifies the functioning of the immune system. This leads to two effects. On the one hand, it reduces the skin’s defenses, and, on the other hand, the skin becomes inflamed.

Likewise, under stress conditions, there’s an increased production of adrenaline and corticosteroids. These act on the skin receptors and cause changes in the skin. At the same time, research has found that all inflammatory diseases tend to worsen with stress.

A study carried out by the Spanish Society of Allergy and Clinical Immunology (SEAIC) has pointed out that at least 50% of people with atopic dermatitis also suffer from episodes of depression and anxiety. They also noted that in recent years, there’s been an increase in cases of stress-associated eczema.

Continue reading: 6 Home Remedies to Treat Contact Dermatitis

The relationship between eczema and stress

Stress affects the skin in many ways. It causes disorders ranging from hives to atopic dermatitis, to acne, psoriasis, seborrheic dermatitis, and rosacea. We now know that there’s a link between eczema and stress, but the link isn’t yet fully understood.

As noted above, there’s a very direct connection between the nervous system and the skin. In addition, eczema and stress create a vicious circle from which it’s very difficult to escape. The presence of the disorder increases stress levels, especially in social situations.

At the same time, increasing stress levels can lead to an increase in eczema. All this together causes a significant amount of suffering and produces feelings of frustration, insecurity, and hopelessness. This is compounded by the fact that there’s no definitive treatment for eczema.

A woman with her head in her hands.

Find out: Causes and Symptoms of Rosacea

Facts to keep in mind

Stress eczema indicates that a person is being subjected to great pressures and demands that they’re unable to manage. It’s a warning sign that shouldn’t be overlooked. It means that there’s a problem that hasn’t been solved and is beyond the tools we have at our disposal.

While there’s no specific treatment for stress eczema, beyond moisturizing the affected areas, the solution lies in addressing its cause, i.e. stress itself. The most advisable thing to do in these cases is to introduce some lifestyle changes.

The regular practice of physical exercise is usually very effective to control stress. Likewise, activities such as yoga or meditation practices are also highly recommended. It’s a good idea to consult a psychologist, who can help us learn to manage stressful situations.

García, R. R., Hernández, D. P. J. A., Viera, A. O., Miyares, J. H. H., Pavón, M. D. L. Á. A., Lafargue, B. F., & Mesa, M. A. (2002). ESTRÉS Y MANIFESTACIONES DERMATOLÓGICAS EN UNA POBLACIÓN TRABAJADORA BAJO EXIGENCIAS PSÍQUICAS. Revista Cubana de Salud y Trabajo, 3(1-2), 55-61.