Minimising Household Irritants to Prevent Eczema Flare Ups

Woman scratching eczema

Eczema, otherwise known as dermatitis, is the most common form of skin disease in the world that currently affects one in five children, and one in twelve adults. Eczema is a highly individual condition, meaning no two cases are alike. As many sufferers of eczema will tell you, the condition will ‘flare up’ based on irritants. Much like the eczema itself, which irritants cause the flare up are individual to the sufferer.

One of the most common set of irritants that induce an eczema flare up are those found in every household such as cleaning products, mould, dust mites and pet hair.   For many eczema sufferers disposing of these types of household irritants and making a few simple changes to their daily routine, can help in controlling flare ups at home.

In preparation for eczema week (16th – 24th September), we put together information  on the most common eczema household irritants, and how to combat them.

House Dust Mites

In every home there lives a tiny and unseen relative of the spider. These are house dust mites, and they are a harmless entity that thrive in dusty places. House dust mites do not themselves cause eczema flare-ups, but there are some people who are sensitive to a protein in their droppings.

House dust mites like to live in areas that have a high abundance of their favourite food, flakes of dead skin. They are most likely to be found in sofas, mattresses and bedding.  Dust mites can also be found in curtains, clothes, soft toys, cushions and any other soft furnishing.

There is no feasible way to completely get rid of dust mites in your home, but you can reduce risk of contact by completing a few simple jobs.

  • Vacuum carpets and soft furnishings regularly, at least twice a week. This will pick up collections of dust in which there are an abundance of house dust mites
  • Wipe down hard surfaces with a damp cloth, duster or mop
  • Wash or dry clean your curtains regularly according to instructions
  • Consider switching cloth curtains with roller blinds
  • Put items in cupboards instead of on shelves, which are more likely to attract dust
  • Avoid keeping children’s toys in their bed or cot, instead opt for a toy box with a lid
  • Wash soft toys regularly according to the instructions on the label (the temperature needs to be at least 60°C to destroy dust mites).  Alternatively, non-washable toys can be placed in a plastic bag before being placed in the freezer for 24 hours to kill off dust mites.
  • Get rid of old mattresses and bedding and replace with washable pillows and duvets with synthetic fillings and cotton covers.
  • Wash bed linen twice a week and pillows and duvets every 4-6 weeks at 60°C.

Pets

Pets are responsible for producing many different types of household irritants. Animal dander (flakes of dead skin), saliva, and fur have all been known to cause eczema flare ups in some individuals. On top of this, pets who run around outdoors will pick up various other external irritants and bring them into the home.

There are a few easy steps to try and prevent pet related eczema flare ups.

  • Train your pet to always use its bed instead of the sofa
  • Do not allow pets in your bedroom
  • Use a pet blanket that can be easily washed
  • Brush pets regularly to remove any loose fur, and vacuum immediately after

Central Heating

Your central heating can have a profound effect on your eczema, as it alters the humidity of your home. When the central heating is on, humidity levels drop which can dry out your skin causing a flare up. On the other hand, high humidity is the perfect condition for house mites, which are also a known eczema irritant. Overheating a home is often a trigger for eczema. The trick is to find a temperature that you are comfortable with, that also will not dry out your skin.

There are no simple ways to prevent central heating causing an eczema outbreak, but there are a few tips that may help.

  • Some eczema sufferers find radiators more comfortable than convection heaters
  • Keep your home well ventilated and as cool as comfortable in the winter (especially in the bedrooms)
  • Possibly add some electric humidifiers or place bowls of water under radiators to maintain a 50-60% humidity level

Pollen and Mould

Pollen and mould are airborne irritants.  Pollens typically originate from outside the home coming from grass, weeds and trees during the spring and summer months.  During the autumn, mould spores created in damp areas are released into the air triggering eczema symptoms.  Whilst mould is often found outdoors in shady woodlands or piles of autumn leaves, steamy bathrooms, kitchens and piles of damp laundry can all create mould in the warm and humid environment that it likes.

Fortunately, both of these irritants can be reduced by taking simple steps.

  • Keep your home ventilated through the year to ensure pollens and spores do not stick around
  • Treat black mould or damp spots as soon as they are found
  • Vacuum regularly
  • Consider how houseplants maybe affecting your eczema
  • Shut doors and windows during the high of hay fever season
  • You can take anti-histamines to reduce itching, but you should consult your doctor first

Cleaning Products

A regular cleaning schedule is one of the best ways to reduce household irritants. House dust mites, pet hair, and a whole host of other things that make your eczema flare-up are significantly reduced by a simple vacuum. But some cleaning products are also known to act as an irritant so it pays to choose carefully to avoid aggravating existing conditions.

  • Everyday household cleaning products contain added chemicals and preservatives that can irritate sensitive skin and cause a type of eczema called irritant contact dermatitis (ICD). If you suffer ICD, try switching to ‘old fashioned’ cleaning agents such as white vinegar to clean glass, bicarbonate of soda instead of bleach and soda crystals as an alternative to bathroom/kitchen cleaners.
  • Try to use vacuums that are built with eczema sufferers in mind. By this we mean vacuums with allergy filters or pet hair filters.
  • Remember to replace vacuum filters regularly
  • Make sure to properly clean the seams of soft furnishings, as this is a favoured home for dust mites
  • Damp dusting is preferable to dry dusting and it stops dust from moving around your home
  • For messy jobs, wear protective gloves. You can also wear cotton gloves underneath to further prevent irritation

Laundry

It has long been subject of discussion on the best type of washing powder or liquid for your skin. Many people believe that non-biological is the safest and fabric conditioner will irritate skin with eczema. There is in fact no scientific evidence for or against this argument. However, many people feel they are affected by biological washing powders or liquids, and therefore prefer non-biological products.

If you are unsure how best to do laundry when suffering from eczema, we have some suggestions for you.

  • Try not to change your washing powder or liquid unless absolutely necessary. If you know this particular brand does not flare up your eczema, there should be no reason to change it
  • Avoid overloading your machine, as this may mean your clothes do not get washed and rinsed properly
  • Follow manufacturer’s instructions, and do not use more product than necessary
  • Wash bedding at 60°C to destroy any dust mites
  • If necessary, use a double rinse cycle to ensure no traces of detergent remain

Eczema is a skin condition that affects one in twelve adults. Unfortunately, this common problem is not one that is easily got rid of. Whilst the above will help identify and combat certain common household irritants that cause eczema flare ups, Active Health Clinics offers further advice and help for dealing with symptoms of eczema using homeopathic treatments. For more information about how Active Health Clinics can help, please feel free to contact a member of our team on 01628 626565.