How Are Sweat and Saliva Triggers for Atopic Dermatitis?

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | June 2017 | Last updated: April 2021

For some people with atopic dermatitis (eczema), bodily fluids like sweat or excess saliva can act as triggers for the dry, itchy, red skin condition. As a chronic condition, it is important for people living with atopic dermatitis to identify and avoid their personal triggers as much as possible. Flares of atopic dermatitis cause lesions on the skin and intense itching and scratching can lead to infections and lichenification, or thickened skin, which is continuously itchy.1

Infants and drooling

Sixty-five percent of all cases of atopic dermatitis are diagnosed in children before the age of 1. While excess saliva or drooling does not cause atopic dermatitis, it can aggravate the condition, making it worse. Infants often have the red, dry, itchy patches of atopic dermatitis on their cheeks or chin, areas that can be irritated with drooling. During teething, infants have even more drooling, causing a flare of atopic dermatitis. Since drooling cannot be controlled, the best defense against this common trigger of atopic dermatitis in children is effective skin care, including washing the face with a mild soap and moisturizing to create a protective barrier on the skin.1,2

Sweat and atopic dermatitis

The excess moisture on the skin that occurs with sweating can be a trigger for people with atopic dermatitis, causing a flare of symptoms and increasing the itchiness of the affected areas of the skin. In addition, many people with atopic dermatitis 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.3

Healthy benefits from sweat

While sweat may trigger atopic dermatitis, 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 pH4

How to manage sweat

Sweat management techniques involve educating people with atopic dermatitis on the important benefits of sweat and encouraging proper skin care. 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 atopic dermatitis. Studies have demonstrated that children with atopic dermatitis have significant improvement in their symptoms if they take showers at school, such as after physical education class.4

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