The Emotional Impact of Eczema

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When you’re living with a chronic condition like eczema, it’s easy to focus on the physical aspects of the disease, like the uncomfortably dry and itchy patches of skin. But it’s important to be aware of the emotional impact of living with a long-term medical condition as well. In fact, learning to recognize and address the role eczema can play in your mental health may improve your physical symptoms in the process.

What is eczema?

Eczema refers to a group of skin conditions that affects over 31 million Americans. Atopic dermatitis is the most common type.

Eczema is believed to be caused by a combination of your genes and certain triggers in your environment, such as heat, soaps, or fabrics. When exposed to these triggers, your body has an overactive immune response, which results in skin inflammation.

In addition to dry and itchy skin, eczema flare-ups can cause:

  • Red or brown patches of skin
  • Rash-like bumps
  • Thick and scaly skin
  • Bleeding or oozing sores due to frequent scratching

How does stress affect eczema?

In addition to external triggers, it’s also known that internal triggers, like stress, can lead to an eczema flare-up. The exact reason is unknown, but researchers think it may be linked to a hormone called cortisol that’s released by your body when you are stressed. High levels of cortisol can cause inflammation in your skin, resulting in the appearance of eczema.

Unfortunately, it can become a bit of a vicious cycle. Eczema can cause discomfort and interrupt your sleep. You may feel self-conscious about your skin or become frustrated that there’s no easy cure. These feelings and experiences can heighten your stress, which in turn exacerbate eczema symptoms.

Over time, this can take a toll. Research has shown an association between eczema and mental health conditions. A study by the National Eczema Association found more than 30% of people with atopic dermatitis were also diagnosed with anxiety or depression. It may be that the same inflammatory response that affects your skin also has an effect on your brain. Or, the challenges of everyday life with eczema can make you feel isolated and limited, leading to low mood and high stress. For many people, it’s likely a bit of both.

What can you do to manage your emotions when you have eczema?

To improve your experience of stress, anxiety, or depression, you can try incorporating some of the following ideas:

  • Practice meditation or relaxation. This may be in the form of a guided meditation on your phone, a leisurely walk, a yoga class, or whatever peaceful activity you enjoy.
  • Make sleep a priority. Sleep may not always come easy when your eczema is acting up, but try to get 7 or 8 hours of sleep each night. To help you drift off, consider taking a soothing bath, limiting your caffeine in the evening, and avoiding screen time before bed.
  • Exercise regularly. It’s been well-documented that physical activity helps your brain release “feel-good” hormones called endorphins. Engaging in moderate exercise on a consistent basis can effectively boost your mood.
  • Talk to someone. Connecting with others who are living with eczema can be very helpful. And now with social media, finding a support group of individuals who can relate to your experience is easier than ever. If you’ve been dealing with ongoing issues with anxiety or depression, however, it’s always best to seek professional help.

Something to remember: actively addressing your emotions may help you reverse the cycle with your eczema. Lowering your stress levels may reduce your eczema flare-ups. Plus, when you’re feeling good, you’re more likely to adhere to your eczema treatment regimen, which can further help your skin. It’s a winning situation all around!

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2021 Nov 3
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
  1. Atopic Dermatitis (Eczema). Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/atopic-dermatitis-eczema/symptoms-causes/syc-20353273
  2. Eczema and Emotional Wellness. National Eczema Association. https://nationaleczema.org/eczema-emotional-wellness/
  3. What is Eczema? National Eczema Association. https://nationaleczema.org/eczema/
  4. 4 Expert-Approved Ways to Reduce Stress and Lower Inflammation. National Eczema Association. https://nationaleczema.org/EAM-stress-reduction/
  5. Psychoneuroimmunology of Psychological Stress and Atopic Dermatitis: Pathophysiologic and Therapeutic Updates. Advances in Dermatology and Venereology. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3704139/
  6. Eczema Impacts Physical and Mental Health of 31M Americans. American Osteopathic Association. https://osteopathic.org/2019/08/19/eczema-impacts-physical-and-mental-health-of-31m-americans/