On the (extensive) list of global warming’s negative effects is something that may surprise you: Climate change triggers eczema (medically referred to as atopic dermatitis) to flare up or become worse due to degraded air quality and increased pollution. “Interestingly, there was a recent study that looked into the effects of the California wildfires on rates of atopic dermatitis,” says dermatologist Valerie Harvey, MD. “They found that visits to the dermatologist increased for both kids and adults [during that time], compared to when there were none. Symptoms of itch were also higher.”
While increasing the prevalence and extent of wildfires are just some of the effects of climate change, Dr. Harvey says that this isn’t just a concern for people on the West Coast or an areas at high-risk for them. Ninety-percent of the world’s population lives in places with poor air quality, and air pollution is the greatest environmental hazard to human health, according to research. Still, Dr. Harvey points out that more research needs to be conducted to gain a better understanding of the relationship between the inflammatory skin condition and environmental factors.
So what can we do about it until then? In addition to these action items to address climate change, there are some immediate steps you can take to care for your skin and safeguard it against air pollution right now. “When possible, wear protective clothing and avoid triggers,” says Dr. Harvey. In other words, cover up (think: longer sleeves, pants, and face masks) if you have to be outside when you’re in a place with poor air quality. But ideally, stay inside if you can.
And if you can’t avoid being outdoors on days like this, make sure you thoroughly clean your skin once you return home, as the skin barrier is often less effective at protecting you when you have eczema, according to a clinical review of research on atopic dermatitis and air pollution. As for a treatment plan when climate change triggers eczema flare ups? Dr. Harvey says your normal routine (as prescribed by your dermatologist) should do the trick.
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