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Eczema, asthma and hay fever – the atopy triad

The saying ‘good things come in threes’ may well be true for many things – a three piece suit, your lunchtime three bean salad. But the atopic triad is probably a trio many of you could do without.


  • The definition of atopy The definition of atopy

    Atopy refers to a family tendency to develop certain allergic conditions including eczemaasthma and hay fever (commonly referred to as the atopic triad). If one or both parents have eczema, asthma or hay fever, it’s more likely that their children will develop one or more of these conditions.

    Atopy means your body produces a certain type of antibody, called immunoglobulin E (Ig E), in response to harmless allergens, such as pollen and dust mites. And atopy is what links eczema, asthma and hay fever. Eczema usually appears first, often at a very young age. Babies or children with eczema are then at a high risk of developing asthma and hay fever at a later stage.

    These conditions can give people a lot of problems throughout the year. If it’s not dry skin in the winter flaring up your eczema, it’s the summer haze playing havoc with your hay fever. Let’s take a closer look at each condition that makes up this troublesome triad and what you can to help relieve your symptoms.

  • Eczema Eczema

    Dry, red, itchy, sore or broken skin? These are just some signs of what your skin may look like if you have eczema (also known as atopic dermatitis).

    Although it’s not exactly clear what causes eczema, we know that it tends to run in families, therefore is part of your genetic make-up. However, there are many things that can cause it to flare up, from cold weather to your favourite perfume or jumper. Changes in temperature, feeling unwell and stress can also make your eczema worse.

    Top tips to manage your eczema

    • Try not to scratch. As tempting as it is, scratching can really damage your skin, sometimes even causing it to bleed and become infected. Keep your nails short and wear cotton gloves at night if you tend to scratch in your sleep.
    • Although the thought of a long, hot bath may be appealing, it’ll only dry out your skin and make your eczema worse. Turn the temperature down and have lukewarm, short baths or showers. Don’t use soap, as it can dry your skin out even further, and always pat your skin dry afterwards, not rub.
    • Keep your skin moist. Regularly apply a body oil or emollient (moisturiser) to your skin to help keep it hydrated. Apply your moisturiser while your skin is damp after a bath or shower to help seal in moisture. Ask a pharmacist to suggest a suitable moisturiser for your eczema because some contain perfumes, which can irritate your skin.
  • Asthma Asthma

    Many of us take breathing for granted. But if you’ve got asthma, coughing, wheezing, a tight chest and shortness of breath are common struggles you may have.

    Although it’s difficult to say for sure what causes asthma, researchers think both your genes and the environment could be responsible. You may have an inherited risk of developing allergies (atopy) or might have had respiratory infections as a child.

    What we do know is that when you come into contact with something that you’re allergic to (airborne allergens), this can irritate your airways. As a result, your airways tighten and narrow, making it difficult for you to breathe.

    Cigarette smoke, perfume, cleaning products, exercise and even stress can trigger asthma symptoms. Even though there isn’t a cure for asthma, most people can manage their symptoms with an inhaler. This helps to relax the muscles in your airways and control the swelling and inflammation caused by a trigger.

    Top tips to manage your asthma

    • Take charge. The best way to control your asthma is to take any medicines that you’re prescribed correctly and avoid anything that you know can trigger symptoms.
    • If you smoke, it’s important that you stop. Also, steer clear of others who smoke. If your child has asthma, it’s important for both their health and yours that you give up. But if that’s not possible, make sure you smoke well away from them.
    • If you think house dust mites are a trigger, wash your bedding on a high temperature.
    • Maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight can make your symptoms worse. So lead a healthy lifestyle by exercising regularly. But be sure to carry your inhaler with you if exercise can bring on asthma symptoms.
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  • Hay fever Hay fever

    Ah-choo! If you get hay fever (allergic rhinitis), spring and summer are far from all fun and games. Sneezing, itchy eyes, a streaming nose and persistent headache can make the warmer months a real challenge.

    The main culprits of hay fever are grass, tree and weed pollens. Who would have thought tiny pollen particles, as well as spores from fungi and moulds, could cause one of the most common allergies?

    Top tips to manage your hay fever

    • Take medicines. Using a nasal spray (either a nasal corticosteroid or a nasal antihistamine) can ease your symptoms. Also, you may find antihistamine tablets helpful. These suppress your body’s release of histamine, which triggers the symptoms of hay fever. You can get these over the counter from your pharmacy. Recommended ones are usually taken once a day and won’t cause drowsiness.
    • Keep windows and doors closed when the pollen count is high and think twice about putting your clothes out to dry on your washing line.
    • If you’ve been out and about, have a shower and wash your hair and clothes when you get home. This will help to get rid of any pollen particles you may have picked up.
    • Put petroleum jelly around the inside of your nose. This helps to prevent pollen and spores irritating the lining of your nose.
  • Resources Resources

    Further information


    • Zheng T, Yu J, Oh MH. The atopic march: progression from atopic dermatitis to allergic rhinitis and asthma. Allergy Asthma Immunol Res 2011; 3(2):67–73. doi:10.4168/aair.2011.3.2.67
    • Eczema (atopic eczema). British Skin Foundation., accessed 12 March 2014
    • Atopic dermatitis. The Merck Manuals., published November 2013
    • Eczema. The British Association of Dermatologists., published April 2013
    • Asthma. The Merck Manuals., published November 2013
    • What causes asthma. National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute., published June 2012
    • Asthma. NICE Clinical Knowledge Summaries., published June 2011
    • Allergic rhinitis. The Merck Manuals., published July 2012
    • Allergic rhinitis. NICE Clinical Knowledge Summaries., published November 2012
    • Controlling your hay fever & rhinitis. Asthma UK., accessed 12 March 2014
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