Eczema and Asthma: Is There a Connection?

Conditions that affect your immune system, such as eczema and asthma, often occur together. In fact, about 20% of adults who have eczema (also called atopic dermatitis) also have asthma. This isn't a coincidence—these conditions are both triggered by inflammation. Learn more about the link between eczema and asthma in this article.

Common Asthma and Eczema Triggers - Illustration by Michela Buttignol

Verywell / Michela Buttignol

Eczema and Asthma: The Link

The exact causes of both eczema and asthma are not known. However, both conditions lead to excess inflammation in your body.

Eczema is a group of skin conditions that cause redness, pain, itching, oozing, swelling, and crusted patches in the affected areas. Symptoms come and go, depending on your triggers. Although eczema is uncomfortable, it is not life-threatening.

Asthma is a chronic disease that affects the lungs. When you are exposed to triggers such as pollens, dust mites, or molds, your airways become inflamed and swollen, making it difficult to breathe. Symptoms include coughing, increased mucus production, chest tightness, faster breathing, shortness of breath, and wheezing. Severe asthma attacks can be life-threatening.

The Atopic March

Many conditions caused by allergies, including eczema and asthma, frequently develop together, beginning in infancy or childhood. This is so common that it has been named the "atopic march." Typically, this progression of diseases begins with eczema, then food allergies, asthma, and allergic rhinitis (also called hay fever). These conditions also tend to run in families.

Not everyone with eczema or asthma will develop the other condition. However, people with more severe cases of eczema are more likely to have asthma, and vice versa. If a child has both conditions, it's also more likely that they will continue to have symptoms as an adult.

How Allergies, Asthma, and Eczema Interact

Eczema flare-ups, asthmas attacks, and allergic reactions can all occur at the same time when you are exposed to a trigger. Triggers cause your immune system to overreact to a substance that it views as foreign. Each person's triggers are different, but there are several types that can cause both your eczema and asthma symptoms to increase, including:

  • Allergens: Exposure to certain allergens can aggravate your eczema and asthma. Allergens include any substance that causes an allergic reaction in your body. Common allergens for both conditions are dust mites, pollen, mold, pet dander, and cockroaches.
  • Irritants: Certain substances can cause flare-ups in your eczema and trigger an asthma attack, even if you aren't allergic to them. Eczema occurs when irritants come into contact with your skin, while asthma triggers are in the air. Irritants that can cause both types of reactions include fragrances, dust, cigarette smoke, wood smoke, and chemicals in household cleaners.
  • Changes in weather: Symptoms of eczema and asthma can worsen if you're exposed to dry, cold air. Changes of the seasons can also trigger allergy symptoms as levels of pollen and mold in the air increase in certain seasons.
  • Stress: Eczema flare-ups and asthma attacks can both be triggered by increased stress in your life. When you are stressed, your body releases hormones such as cortisol. Too much cortisol can cause skin inflammation. In addition, stressful situations often lead to strong emotional reactions that affect your breathing, which can trigger your asthma symptoms.

Managing and Treating Inflammation

While there's no cure for eczema or asthma, there are several ways symptoms can be managed.

Over-the-counter (OTC) medications can treat symptoms caused by both eczema and asthma.

  • Anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving medications: These medications can temporarily reduce pain, burning, and inflammation.
  • Topical steroid creams: Mild cases of eczema can be treated with OTC steroid creams.

Prescription medications are often required to successfully treat symptoms of eczema and asthma. Common asthma treatments include:

  • Inhalers: Most asthma medications are inhaled directly into your lungs. They work by relaxing muscles in your airways and decreasing swelling and mucus production. Some inhalers are designed to immediately treat symptoms that come on suddenly; these are called rescue inhalers. Others contain longer-acting medications and are used on a daily basis to help manage symptoms; these are called control or maintenance medications.
  • Nebulizers: Some liquid asthma medications are turned into a mist, which is then breathed in using a machine called a nebulizer.
  • Steroid anti-inflammatories: Steroids can help control or even prevent asthma symptoms. These medications can be inhaled or taken orally.
  • Biologics: These medications are given through shots or infusions. Biologics are used to treat asthma that is moderate to severe that doesn't respond well to other treatments.
  • Leukotriene modifiers: Leukotrienes are chemicals that cause asthma symptoms. Leukotriene modifiers are oral medications that block these chemicals.

Eczema is also treated with prescription medications. These can include:

  • Topicals: These medications are applied directly to your affected skin. In addition to prescription steroid creams containing higher doses than OTC versions, topical calcineurin inhibitors (TCIs) and topical phosphodiesterase 4 inhibitors are also used to treat eczema. These medications block cells in your immune system that cause your symptoms.
  • Oral steroids: For severe cases of eczema, your doctor might also prescribe oral steroids to decrease inflammation.

Lifestyle Changes

While you can't always prevent eczema flare-ups or asthma attacks, there are lifestyle changes you can make to reduce your risk of experiencing uncomfortable symptoms.

  • Identify your triggers (and avoid them): Allergy testing can be performed by an allergist (a doctor specializing in diagnosing and treating allergies) to help determine the triggers of your symptoms. Once you have this information, you can avoid your triggers as much as possible.
  • Contain your pets: If you find that you're allergic to your pet, limit them to specific rooms of the house—and don't sleep with them. Vacuum regularly, wash your hands, and change your clothes after you've spent time with them.
  • Clear the air: Change air filters regularly and keep your ventilation system in good working order. Many triggers for eczema and asthma are found in the air.
  • Use basic products: Choose personal hygiene products that are free of common triggers, such as fragrances, dyes, and preservatives. Avoid these ingredients in household cleaners and detergents, too.
  • Stay hydrated: Keep your skin hydrated to help prevent eczema flare-ups. Bathe in lukewarm water, pat your skin dry, and apply oil-based moisturizer right away to lock in moisture. If the air in your home is dry, consider using a humidifier.

A Word From Verywell

Living with more than one inflammatory condition can feel overwhelming, but worrying about your health can make your symptoms worse. Establish a good skin-care routine, avoid your triggers, and take advantage of resources, such as support groups, to improve your quality of life.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Can eczema cause respiratory problems?

    Eczema doesn't directly cause respiratory problems, but many people with this condition also have allergies and/or asthma that can affect your breathing.

  • Is eczema related to the lungs?

    Eczema is a group of skin conditions not related to your lungs.

  • Are asthma and eczema autoimmune diseases?

    While asthma is not considered to be an autoimmune disease, some types of eczema do fall into this category.

  • Is eczema bacterial or fungal?

    Eczema is not caused by bacteria or fungi, but you can develop an infection from bacteria or fungi that enter your irritated skin.

9 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. National Eczema Society. Conditions related to eczema.

  2. American Lung Association. Learn about asthma.

  3. Hill DA, Spergel JM. The atopic march: critical evidence and clinical relevance. Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol. 120(2):131-137. Doi:10.1016%2Fj.anai.2017.10.037

  4. Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. What causes or triggers asthma?

  5. National Eczema Association. Eczema and emotional wellness.

  6. National Eczema Assocation. Over the counter.

  7. Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. Asthma medications and treatment.

  8. National Eczema Association. Prescription topicals.

  9. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Eczema (atopic dermatitis) treatment.

By Aubrey Bailey, PT, DPT, CHT
Aubrey Bailey is a physical therapist and professor of anatomy and physiology with over a decade of experience providing in-person and online education for medical personnel and the general public, specializing in the areas of orthopedic injury, neurologic diseases, developmental disorders, and healthy living.