Exercise and Atopic Dermatitis

Regular exercise is an important part of overall health and well-being, however, heat and sweat can be common triggers for relapses of atopic dermatitis (AD) also known as atopic eczema. Some people with AD may avoid exercising to try and prevent a recurrence of AD, however, exercise has many benefits to health. With understanding of the triggers and proper preparation, people with AD can participate in exercise and take care of their skin.

Sweat and atopic dermatitis

The excess moisture on the skin that occurs with sweating can be a trigger for people with AD, causing a flare of symptoms and increasing the itchiness of the affected areas of the skin. In addition, many people with AD have a hypersensitivity to sweat: their bodies respond to the presence of sweat by producing histamine, a chemical that is released by the immune system in response to allergens. Histamine causes inflammation, and while other many allergens can be avoided, such as pet dander or certain foods, sweat is a natural function of the body that cannot be completely eliminated.1

While sweat may trigger AD, sweat also provides a number of healthy benefits, including:

  • Maintaining the skin’s homeostasis, especially the balance of temperature
  • Assisting in the antimicrobial function of the skin to protect against microorganisms like bacteria, virus, and fungi
  • Providing a natural moisturizing effect
  • Helping to regulate the skin surface pH2

It’s important for people with AD to manage their skin after sweating. Showering or bathing after sweating, patting the skin dry, and applying a good moisturizer can help protect the skin and reduce the risk of flares of AD. Studies have demonstrated that children with AD have significant improvement in their symptoms if they take showers at school, such as after physical education class.2

Helpful approaches to exercise with atopic dermatitis

There are several lifestyle approaches that can help make exercise easier and less triggering for people with AD, such as:

  • Wearing loose-fitting, cotton clothing. Rough or irritating clothing can be a trigger for AD. Loose-fitting and breathable fabrics can reduce flare-ups.
  • Avoid exercising during the heat of the day. Heat is another trigger for AD, so overheating should be avoided. Try exercising during cooler parts of the day, like the morning or early evening. If you have to be outside during the hottest parts of the day, be sure to take breaks or reduce the intensity of your exercise.
  • Drink plenty of fluids. Staying hydrated can help keep the body cool and is also important for the moisture content in the skin.
  • Shower after exercising. Washing off the sweat from the skin with warm (not hot) water and using a gentle soap or cleanser can help reduce the triggering effect sweat can have on AD.
  • Don’t forget to moisturize. Applying moisturizer following a shower helps seal in moisture and can help repair the broken skin barrier that is characteristic of AD.3
Emily Downward | June 2017
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