Learn about the five types of hand eczema, how doctors diagnose it, current treatment options, as well as medications in development.
Published On: Jun 20, 2023
Last Updated On: Jun 20, 2023
Inflammation is a normal part of health and healing. “Inflammation is the immune system’s normal response to infection or injury,” said Dr. Eric Simpson, professor of dermatology at Oregon Health & Science University. “It’s the body’s way of protecting us from cancer and/or other disease-causing viruses, bacteria, fungi and other potentially harmful invaders.”
But with eczema, or atopic dermatitis, your body’s immune system is having an inflammatory response even if there is no invader present, explained Dr. Simpson. When this happens, the immune system stays unnecessarily triggered and it can cause inflammatory conditions (not to be mistaken for autoimmune conditions) like eczema.
People with eczema tend to have a lot of proinflammatory proteins called cytokines, which act as chemical messengers that tell your immune system to respond to a threat.
As part of this response, certain cells in your immune system produce proinflammatory cytokines, or proteins that can weaken the epithelial tissue that lines the skin, mouth, nose and gastrointestinal system and can cause chronic inflammation that damages your skin.
While there’s no one easy fix to eczema, an anti-inflammatory lifestyle can provide many holistic health and well-being benefits that can help you feel better from the inside out.
“Lifestyle choices such as diet, exercise and stress management can play a role in minimizing the risk of inflammation associated with an overactive immune response,” said Dr. Vivian Shi, associate professor of dermatology at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.
Here are 11 doctor-approved tips to help avoid inflammation if you have eczema.
“Not sleeping enough is pro-inflammatory,” said Dr. Charles Raison, psychiatry professor at the University of Wisconsin- Madison. To help improve your sleep and nurture your circadian rhythm:
“Regular exercise can help to reduce inflammation,” said Dr. Shi, by reducing your body’s production of pro-inflammatory molecules and improving your immune system function.
Go for foods that are closer to a “natural” state or not processed. For example, “Fruits and vegetables, whole grains, fatty fish and nuts have anti-inflammatory properties,” said Dr. Shi. Not only are these unprocessed foods less likely to cause inflammation, they can also help fight inflammation.
Flavonoids have lots of anti-inflammatory properties. Flavonoids are found in colorful fruits and vegetables (like tomatoes, red peppers, citrus fruits and berries). Both green and black teas are also rich in flavonoids, according to the Molecular Aspects of Medicine journal.2 Vitamin D and zinc supplements can also help.
The best omega-3 sources are fish, including salmon, sardines, mackerel, herring and tuna. Fish oil supplements are also an option. Other good sources of omega-3s are ground flax, flaxseed oil, walnuts and (to a lesser degree) green leafy vegetables. When cooking, reach for monounsaturated fats like olive oil and canola oil; they can dampen inflammation.
Enjoy anti-inflammatory antioxidant seasonings such as turmeric, ginger, cinnamon, cumin and coriander. Some scientists believe that such spices hold huge promise in the fight against chronic disease and inflammation.3
Consider taking probiotics to foster good gut health.4–5 They can help to reduce inflammation throughout your body. Foods that naturally contain probiotics include yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, tempeh and kombucha. You can learn more about probiotics and prebiotics and their potential benefits for eczema management here.
Limit alcohol consumption to one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men. A review of studies found that alcohol can increase skin inflammation in nearly everyone.6–7 Drinking alcohol can also dry out the skin and dilate blood vessels, making eczema more red and itchy. In some people alcohol can also trigger flares.
According to a study in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke are both associated with higher rates of eczema in adults and children all over the world.8 Of course quitting smoking is not easy. For support, reach out to your doctor. You can also explore resources available from the CDC, including texting “quit lines” and tips for handling withdrawal.
Get more morning sunlight exposure to improve your sleep and to help release inflammation-dampening compounds. Researchers have found that moderate doses of UV-B (below the level that can cause burns) can improve barrier function and antimicrobial defense.9
Because psychological stress activates inflammatory pathways, Dr. Shi recommends engaging in calming mind-body practices. Good stress-relievers include music, meditation, yoga, deep breathing and strong social connections.
While lifestyle modifications aren’t going to eliminate all of your symptoms, it can help reduce inflammation and eczema flares. In addition, to help reduce type 2 inflammation associated with eczema, Dr. Shi said, “it’s important to identify and avoid triggers, use topical treatments and consider systemic treatments, if necessary.”