How Is Atopic Dermatitis Affected by Weather?

The weather can aggravate or trigger atopic dermatitis (eczema), leading some to call it winter eczema or seasonal dermatitis. Atopic dermatitis is a specific type of eczema, and many people living with atopic dermatitis find that the cold, dry weather in winter makes their skin lesions worse. Both the severity of the disease and the activity (the number of lesions) can be influenced by the climate and weather, sometimes with dramatic changes within a few days or weeks.1

Climate and weather can trigger eczema

Research studies have identified several factors related to climate and weather that can act as eczema triggers, including:

  • Cold seasons
  • Changing weather
  • A sudden fall in temperature
  • Geographical regions that lack sun (exposure to UV light generally improves atopic dermatitis)

One of the environmental triggers that is closely associated with the weather is the seasonal changes in pollen counts, as allergens also act as a trigger for atopic dermatitis.1,2

What is the role of the skin barrier?

People with atopic dermatitis have a dysfunction in their skin barrier. The skin’s barrier function is critical to keeping out allergens and other germs, as well as keeping in needed moisture. With the disturbance in skin barrier, the skin of people with atopic dermatitis loses more water than normal and provides an opening for bacteria, virus, fungi, allergens, and many irritants.

Relationship between climate and atopic dermatitis

The exact relationship between climate and atopic dermatitis has not been determined, but experts believe that the damage to the skin’s barrier may lead to a reduced capability to adapt to changing weather. Research has found that people with atopic dermatitis experience more itchiness in winter than summer.

Why is eczema worse in the winter?

Winter’s lower temperatures, shorter days with a lower total amount of sunshine, and reduced humidity are all associated with an increase in itching and can act as a trigger for atopic dermatitis. The most important weather variable is air temperature. Lower temperatures in winter require more clothing, which allows for less ventilation of the skin and may introduce fibers that aggravate atopic dermatitis. Colder temperatures are also associated with less humidity in the air, which can affect the dryness of the skin. Dry skin can also act as a trigger for atopic dermatitis.1

Managing winter eczema

Proper skin care is always important for people with atopic dermatitis, and this becomes even more critical during winter months when the colder temperatures create the potential for worsening of symptoms.

Tips for winter eczema

To reduce the impact of climate changes and protect the skin, people with atopic dermatitis can:

  • Moisturize skin every day to help seal in hydration and repair the skin barrier
  • Keep baths and showers short and use lukewarm water for bathing
  • Avoid harsh soaps, which can further dry and irritate the skin
  • Use humidifiers to increase the amount of moisture in the room
  • Use topical medications, like topical corticosteroids or topical
  • Avoid allergens and irritants

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Emily Downward | June 2017