Sudden Eczema In Adults: A Comprehensive Look

Sudden eczema in adults is a chronic skin condition characterized by dry, itchy, and inflamed patches of skin. While it commonly affects infants and young children, adults can also develop eczema, sometimes experiencing flare-ups. In this article, we will delve into the causes, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment options for sudden eczema in adults.

Woman holding the arms of a man.

What is Eczema?

Eczema encompasses various types of skin inflammation, collectively known as dermatitis. The most prevalent form is Atopic Dermatitis, characterized by a weakened skin barrier that leads to eczema symptoms. The causes of eczema can be diverse, including genetic factors, environmental triggers, allergies, and immune system abnormalities.

This weakened skin barrier makes it easy for moisture to escape from your skin and you are more susceptible to irritation. When adults suddenly get eczema, it means that their skin suddenly starts acting up and gets itchy, dry, and maybe even red and swollen. It can be really uncomfortable!

Causes of Sudden Eczema in Adults

Eczema triggers in adults infographic. Eczema can be triggered by many different factors, which can vary from person to person. The most common eczema triggers are: Allergies, chemical irritants, dry skin, food sensitivities, health conditions, mental health, medication and weather.

Sudden eczema in adults can be triggered by many different things like environmental exposures, weather, and even certain food allergies or sensitivities. Here are the most common causes of sudden eczema in adults:


Eczema is often associated with an overactive immune response, and allergies can further exacerbate this reaction. When an individual with eczema comes into contact with an allergen, such as pollen, dust mites, pet dander, or even foods, their immune system reacts by releasing histamines.

Allergic Contact Dermatitis

Allergic contact dermatitis involves an immune system response to specific allergens like fragrances, preservatives, dyes, or latex when those allergens make contact with your skin. Exposure to these allergens can result in eczema flare-ups.

Chemical Irritants

Animated image of various cleaners and detergents you would find on the shelf of a supermarket.

Chemicals have the potential to trigger or exacerbate eczema symptoms due to their irritant properties. Irritant contact dermatitis occurs when the skin comes into direct contact with irritants such as soaps, detergents, solvents, or certain metals. These substances can disrupt the skin barrier, leading to dryness, redness, and itching.

Dry Skin

Up-close picture of an adult with eczema on his finger. The dermatitis is cracked and flaking skin.

When the skin is dry, it becomes more prone to cracking, itching, and inflammation. The dryness can trigger an inflammatory response, causing eczema flare-ups. Additionally, the itch-scratch cycle plays a role in exacerbating eczema symptoms. Intense itching leads to scratching, which damages the skin further and disrupts its barrier function, making it even more susceptible to dryness and irritation.

Food Sensitivities

Food sensitivities can play a role in triggering or worsening sudden eczema symptoms in adults, particularly in individuals with atopic dermatitis. Certain foods can act as allergens or irritants, leading to an immune system response and subsequent eczema flare-ups.

Foods That Trigger Eczema Flare-ups

foods that trigger eczema flare-ups infographic. Certain foods are known to trigger eczema flare-ups, especially if you have food allergies. The most common flare-ups foods are: Citrus fruits, dairy products, eggs, fish, food additives, gluten, nuts, shellfish, soy, spices, and tomatoes.

When a person with eczema consumes these trigger foods, their immune system may release inflammatory substances, resulting in skin inflammation, itching, and redness. Here is a list of foods that can trigger sudden eczema flare-ups in adults:

  1. Citrus fruits
  2. Dairy products
  3. Eggs
  4. Fish
  5. Food additives
  6. Gluten
  7. Nuts
  8. Shellfish
  9. Soy
  10. Spices
  11. Tomatoes

If you have a known allergy or sensitivity to certain foods that are not on this list, it is best to avoid those triggers as well. This list is not all-inclusive.

Health Conditions

stethoscope resting on a work calendar for a doctor.

Eczema, or atopic dermatitis, can be influenced by various underlying health conditions. Certain health conditions can trigger or worsen eczema symptoms due to their impact on the immune system or the skin’s barrier function.

Asthma or Hay Fever

Cartoon pointing to a shadow of someone coughing and holding an inhaler.

Individuals with asthma or hay fever (allergic rhinitis) are more likely to develop eczema, as these conditions often coexist and are usually all triggered by the immune system. This inflammation bond between the three conditions is commonly referred to as the atopic or allergic triad.

Autoimmune Disorders

Autoimmune conditions such as psoriasis or lupus can cause chronic inflammation throughout the body, including the skin. This systemic inflammation can disrupt the skin’s barrier function and lead to dryness, redness, and itching characteristic of eczema.

Additionally, autoimmune disorders can result in immune dysregulation and the production of antibodies that target the skin’s proteins, further contributing to the development of sudden eczema in adults.

Mental Health

A cartoon of someone sitting on the ground and holding their legs. There is a shadow behind the person that looks like a monster. This is a visual of how mental health and anxiety can affect a person even though you cannot see the signs on the outside.

The connection between mental health and eczema is complex and multifaceted. Stress, anxiety, depression, and other emotional factors can influence the immune system and disrupt the body’s physiological processes, potentially leading to sudden eczema flare-ups in adults.

When individuals experience stress or emotional distress, their body releases stress hormones like cortisol, which can affect the immune system and trigger inflammatory responses. This can contribute to skin inflammation and worsen eczema symptoms.

Woman bending down to scratch her itchy leg.

Additionally, scratching, a common response to eczema itchiness, can be heightened during periods of stress or anxiety, leading to skin damage and exacerbation of eczema lesions.

Furthermore, the impact of eczema on one’s appearance and quality of life can also contribute to mental health challenges, creating a cycle of stress and worsening symptoms.

Managing mental health through stress reduction techniques, therapy, mindfulness, and self-care practices can help minimize the impact of eczema. Incorporating stress management strategies alongside proper skincare and medical treatments can contribute to better eczema management and overall well-being.


woman on the beach pointing up to the skin in workout gear.

Hormonal changes can potentially trigger or influence sudden eczema in adults, particularly in women. Fluctuations in hormone levels, such as those occurring during puberty, menstrual cycles, pregnancy, or menopause, can impact the immune system and skin barrier function, potentially leading to eczema flare-ups.

Changes in estrogen levels can affect the skin’s moisture balance, leading to dryness or increased sensitivity. This can weaken the skin’s barrier function, making it more susceptible to irritants and allergens, and triggering eczema.


a white squeeze tube of cream, resting on a leaf.

Medications have the potential to trigger or exacerbate eczema symptoms in certain individuals. This can occur through various mechanisms, including direct skin irritation, immune system reactions, or changes in hormone levels.

Some medications, such as topical antibiotics, antifungals, or corticosteroids, may cause skin irritation or allergic reactions in sensitive individuals. These reactions can manifest as redness, itching, or a worsening of eczema symptoms in the areas where the medication is applied.

In rare cases, certain systemic medications, such as antibiotics, antihistamines, or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), can trigger a systemic allergic reaction that affects the skin and leads to eczema-like symptoms.

Furthermore, medications that influence hormonal balance, such as oral contraceptives or hormone replacement therapy, can potentially impact eczema. Hormonal fluctuations or changes induced by these medications may disrupt the skin’s barrier function or affect the immune system, resulting in eczema flare-ups.


Extreme weather over water. On the left is bright orange skies, on the right is dark blue skies with lightening. Where the two colors meet is the start of a tornado.

Weather conditions can play a role in triggering sudden eczema in adults. Extreme temperatures, humidity levels, and seasonal changes can affect the skin’s moisture balance and trigger eczema flare-ups.

Cold Environments

A light blue frozen ice chunk in the ocean.

The combination of low temperatures, dry air, and indoor heating during cold weather can negatively impact the skin’s moisture balance and contribute to eczema flare-ups. Here’s how cold environments can cause sudden eczema in adults:

  1. Dryness: Dry air can strip the skin of its natural oils, causing irritation-prone skin.
  2. Reduced blood flow: Constriction from cold reduces blood flow to the skin, depriving it of oxygen and nutrients. Consequently, the skin’s barrier function may weaken, making it more susceptible to irritation and eczema flare-ups.
  3. Indoor heating: Indoor heating systems used during cold weather can further contribute to dryness by reducing the humidity in the air. The combination of cold outdoor air and heated indoor air can create a significant contrast that can be particularly harsh on the skin.
  4. Layering and irritants: In colder climates, people tend to wear multiple layers of clothing to keep warm. The friction between layers and the use of certain fabrics can irritate the skin and trigger eczema flare-ups. Additionally, exposure to harsh detergents or fabrics that are not skin-friendly can further irritate eczema-prone skin in cold environments.

Hot and Humid Environments

Woman standing in the sand on a beach facing the sun. She is covering her face because the sun is so hot and bright.

Hot and humid environments can trigger or worsen eczema symptoms for some individuals. In such conditions, the combination of heat and high humidity can disrupt the skin’s natural balance and contribute to eczema flare-ups. Here’s how hot and humid environments can impact eczema:

  1. Increased sweating: Heat and humidity cause the body to sweat more as it tries to cool down. Excessive sweating can irritate the skin and lead to moisture buildup, which can further exacerbate eczema symptoms.
  2. Moisture trapping: In hot and humid environments, the air is often saturated with moisture, making it difficult for sweat to evaporate from the skin. This trapped moisture can trigger or worsen eczema.
  3. Heat-induced itching: The combination of heat and humidity can make the skin more sensitive and prone to itching. Itchiness is a common symptom of eczema, and the heat can intensify this sensation, leading to increased scratching and potential skin damage.

Seasonal Changes

Seasonal changes can trigger sudden eczema in adults. The transition between seasons, particularly from winter to spring or summer to fall, can bring about shifts in humidity levels, allergen exposure, and temperature fluctuations. These changes can disrupt the skin’s balance and trigger eczema flare-ups, especially in individuals who are prone to seasonal allergies.

Where does eczema appear on the body?

Eczema on the body infographic. Eczema can appear anywhere on the body, here are the most common locations where eczema can occur: Abdomen, arms, back, buttocks, chest, face, ears, scalp, feet, groin, hands, legs, and neck.

Eczema can appear anywhere on the body. Some factors that influence where eczema may appear are your medical conditions, genes, and exposures. Here are common areas where eczema can occur:

  1. Abdomen: Eczema can develop on the skin around the belly button or in the abdominal area.
  2. Arms: Eczema can appear on the inner elbows, outer elbows, and forearms.
  3. Back: Including the upper or lower back, especially in areas with skin folds.
  4. Buttocks: To include the buttocks and the skin surrounding the anus.
  5. Chest: Eczema can occur on the chest area, particularly in the skin folds, and breasts.
  6. Face: Eczema can affect the cheeks, forehead, eyelids, and areas around the mouth and nose.
  7. Ears: Ear eczema can develop behind the ears or affect the earlobes.
  8. Scalp: It may cause dry, itchy, and scaly patches on the scalp.
  9. Feet: It may affect the soles of the feet, toes, and spaces between the toes.
  10. Groin: Eczema can affect the groin area, including the inner thighs, scrotum, and genital area.
  11. Hands: Eczema on the hands may affect the palms, fingers, and the spaces between fingers.
  12. Legs: Eczema can occur on the thighs, calves, and shins.
  13. Neck: The front and back of the neck can be prone to eczema flare-ups.

Pictures of Eczema

Looking at pictures of eczema is a good way to compare similar eczema traits with your symptoms. Keep in mind there are different types of eczema and the symptoms appear slightly different for everyone. Here are a few photos that give you an idea of what eczema looks like.

adult hands that both have eczema. The hands show darkening skin and cracking blisters.
Nummular eczema on the right hand of an adult. The dermatitis is cracking and blistering over the right thumb knuckle.
An adult left foot and leg with severe dry and cracked skin all the way up the calf.

Symptoms of Sudden Eczema in Adults

The sudden appearance of eczema in adults varies from person to person and ranges from mild itching to the development of blisters. Here is a list of eczema symptoms in adults:

Symptoms of sudden eczema in adults infographic. Eczema symptoms can range from mild to severe, and present differently from person to person. Here is a list of symptoms that may occur in adults: Cracking skin, dryness, itchy skin, oozing blisters, rash, redness, skin discoloration, skin sensitivity, sleep disturbance, stress/anxiety, swelling, thickened skin.
  1. Cracking skin
  2. Dryness
  3. Increased skin sensitivity
  4. Itchy skin
  5. Oozing or weeping blisters
  6. Rash
  7. Redness
  8. Skin discoloration
  9. Sleep disturbances (itching/discomfort)
  10. Stress/anxiety
  11. Swelling
  12. Thickened skin

Diagnosing Sudden Eczema in Adults

Diagnosing eczema typically involves a combination of medical history evaluation, physical examination, and, in some cases, additional tests. Here’s a general overview of the diagnostic process for eczema:

Medical History

Your doctor will begin by asking you about your symptoms, such as when they started, how they have progressed, and any triggers that seem to worsen your symptoms. They will also inquire about your personal and family history of allergies, asthma, or other atopic conditions, as eczema often coexists with these conditions.

Physical Examination

A thorough examination of your skin will be conducted to assess the affected areas and evaluate the characteristic signs of eczema. These signs may include redness, dryness, scaling, crusting, swelling, and skin thickening. The doctor will also examine other parts of your body to determine if the condition has spread.


In some cases, your doctor may order additional tests to confirm the diagnosis or rule out other possible causes. These tests may include:

Patch Test

allergy skin patch test infographic.
Skin Patch Test Image:

Patch testing can help identify specific allergens or irritants that may be triggering your eczema. An allergy patch test is a simple procedure to determine if your body reacts to certain substances.

Patches with potential allergens are placed on your back for 48 hours. Afterward, the doctor removes the patches and checks for any reactions. It helps us understand your allergies and create a management plan.

Blood Test

A blood sample may be taken to measure specific antibodies, such as immunoglobulin E (IgE), which are at elevated levels when you have allergies. Blood testing can help support the diagnosis of eczema.

Skin Biopsy

a woman's upper back without a shirt on.

A skin biopsy can provide valuable information about the nature and characteristics of the inflammation present in the skin. The pathologist examines the tissue sample and looks for specific histological features associated with eczema, such as spongiosis (intercellular fluid accumulation), epidermal thickening, and infiltration of immune cells like lymphocytes and eosinophils. These findings, along with the clinical presentation and history, can help confirm the diagnosis of eczema.

Treatment Options

The treatment options for sudden eczema in adults focus on managing symptoms, reducing inflammation, and restoring the skin barrier. Topical corticosteroids and moisturizers are just a few choices from this list of treatment options:


image of the many over-the-counter allergy medications available in a store.

Antihistamines work by blocking the action of histamine, thereby reducing itching and preventing further inflammation. By reducing the urge to scratch and breaking the “itch-scratch” cycle, antihistamines provide relief to individuals with eczema and help improve their quality of life.


a woman applying a cream onto her skin from a tin of balm

Moisturizers can help soothe the skin, reduce redness, and alleviate discomfort associated with eczema flare-ups. Regular and consistent use of moisturizers is essential in managing eczema, as they can help prevent future flare-ups and maintain the skin’s overall health.


Woman covering her right-side of her face with her hand, and receiving UV photosensitivity treatment on the left side of her face.

The UV light in phototherapy helps to suppress the overactive immune response and decrease inflammation in the skin. It also promotes the production of vitamin D, which has immune-modulating properties. By reducing inflammation and promoting healing, phototherapy can help improve the symptoms of eczema, such as itching, redness, and scaling.

Stress Management

woman with her face in her hands because of stress and anxiety. She is upset.

Stress reduction techniques such as relaxation exercises, deep breathing, meditation, and mindfulness can help calm the mind and reduce anxiety, which in turn can help alleviate eczema symptoms.

Additionally, engaging in activities that promote overall well-being, such as regular exercise, adequate sleep, and maintaining a balanced lifestyle, can help manage stress levels and contribute to better eczema management.

Systemic Medications

Systemic medications can be prescribed to treat eczema when topical treatments and other conservative measures are not sufficient to control the symptoms. These medications are taken orally or by injection and work by targeting the underlying immune response associated with eczema.

Topical Calcineurin Inhibitors

Topical Calcineurin Inhibitors (TCIs) are non-steroidal creams or ointments that can be used as an alternative to corticosteroids, and they help reduce inflammation and itchiness. TCIs are a class of medications used to treat eczema, particularly in sensitive areas where other treatments may be less suitable, such as the face and genitals.

Topical Corticosteroids

a woman applying a cream onto her skin from a tin of balm

Topical corticosteroids help alleviate the symptoms of eczema and promote healing. Topical corticosteroids that are applied to the affected skin, are absorbed and interact with skin cells, suppressing the immune response and decreasing the release of inflammatory substances.

Wet Wrap Therapy

Wet wrap therapy helps to moisturize the skin and improve its barrier function, leading to reduced itching, redness, and irritation. The wet wraps also serve to lock in moisture, allowing topical medications to penetrate the skin more effectively and provide enhanced relief.

Wet wrap therapy involves applying moisturizer to the affected areas, followed by a layer of wet bandages or clothing. It helps hydrate the skin and improve its absorption of topical medications.

Natural Eczema Treatments

A white plate is resting on a plant leaf, and a natural oil is being poured out onto the plate.

Several natural approaches can complement medical treatments for eczema. These techniques include the application of aloe vera, chamomile, or coconut oil to the affected areas. Additionally, taking warm oatmeal baths, using humidifiers, and incorporating omega-3 fatty acids into the diet may help alleviate symptoms and promote healthier skin.

Key Takeaways

Eczema showing up suddenly can significantly impact our adult lives, causing discomfort and affecting our emotional well-being. Understanding the causes, symptoms, and treatment options is crucial for effective management. By making lifestyle changes, seeking medical help when needed, and adopting appropriate self-care measures, individuals with sudden eczema can improve their quality of life and minimize the impact of this chronic skin condition.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What causes severe eczema in adults?

The cause of severe eczema in adults varies from person to person. Common culprits are exposure to allergens and irritants.

What causes eczema out of nowhere?

Eczema can appear out of nowhere, and without a clear trigger. Factors like your genes, immune system, environmental exposures, and medical conditions can also play a role.

Can you develop eczema as an adult?

Yes, eczema can develop during any stage of life, including as an adult.

Is eczema contagious?

No, eczema is not contagious. It is a non-infectious skin condition that cannot be spread from person to person.

Can diet affect eczema symptoms?

Yes, certain foods are more prone to causing eczema symptoms, especially if you have a food allergy or intolerance.