Eczema (also known as ‘atopic dermatitis’) is a vexing skin condition that has frustrated medical professionals for centuries while hard water is a simple fact of life in much of the world. It’s the result of geologic formations below the surface where groundwater is stored and/or where it passes through. For some time now researchers have suspected that there might be a link between eczema and hard water, but it’s another element of the eczema saga that has been slow to yield definitive results. There are some dermatologists who are convinced the link is conclusive while there are many more who believe that, while no causal relationship has been established, it may very well be that hard water aggravates existing eczema cases. Below we’ll take a look at the relationship (if any) between atopic dermatitis and hard water.
What is Eczema?
It’s estimated that several hundred million people currently suffer from some manifestation of eczema. Along with psoriasis, it’s one of the most common skin conditions known to man. There doesn’t seem to be a definitive reason why one person is afflicted with eczema while another is not, but it’s thought that genetics may play a role. Other risk factors include food allergies, asthma, hay fever, ingredients in some soaps and environmental factors; which may include hard water. Symptoms include:
- An itchy sensation in certain areas that comes and goes.
- Raised areas of skin that may “leak” fluid when scratched.
- Upper layers of skin that become flaky and peel off.
- Thick, cracked and scaly skin.
With eczema, it’s important to avoid known irritants if you have any hope of keeping it at bay. You also need to drink plenty of water to keep the skin properly hydrated, and you may want to use topical ointments containing hydrocortisone to minimize itching and dryness. Atopic dermatitis is not in and of itself dangerous, but it can be incredibly uncomfortable and socially embarrassing, depending on where the symptoms appear. There is no known ‘cure’ for eczema.
What is Hard Water?
Hard water has a high mineral content which is usually the result of groundwater percolating through particular types of sedimentary rock like limestone and chalk that are highly alkaline. These rocks contain high concentrations of calcium and magnesium which leach out into the water that eventually winds up in your home or workplace. The health benefits or dangers of hard water have been vigorously debated for decades, and even to this day you’ll find various studies coming to conflicting conclusions regarding the specific threat hard water poses to our health.
Eczema and Hard Water
As we mentioned, it is believed that environmental hazards can cause outbreaks of eczema symptoms. That would include the water coming out of your pipes. While definitive proof is elusive, there is a growing body of evidence that points strongly toward the conclusion that hard water is a contributing factor to the development of atopic dermatitis, particularly in children. That evidence is gleaned from a series of studies conducted in Japan, Britain, and Spain where it was shown that children who lived in areas of those countries that were served by hard water wells were more likely to develop the condition than children who lived in other areas. While noteworthy the data cannot at this point be considered conclusive because there may be other environmental factors that come into play in those areas that are being overlooked.
In adults, there is little or no evidence that hard water actually causes new cases of eczema. However, there is more than a little evidence that hard water can aggravate existing atopic dermatitis symptoms in adults and that seems to be the case pretty much anywhere hard water is found. It is believed that eczema weakens the natural ability of the skin to protect itself. Therefore the minerals present in hard water may enter through compromised areas of skin on an adult and aggravate the underlying condition by acting as an irritant. Lanolin is also believed to be an irritant for those suffering atopic dermatitis symptoms so showering in hard water using soap that contains lanolin is definitely something eczema sufferers young and old would want to try and avoid.
It is thought that the alkalinity of hard water contributes to the breakdown of the aforementioned protective barrier in the skin of eczema sufferers. Once this happens, the weakened skin is vulnerable to invasion by potentially harmful bacteria. These various invasive bacteria can ultimately cause infections which further damage the skin of the person afflicted with atopic dermatitis. It is thought that sufferers may have a genetic mutation that further undermines the natural protective barrier of the skin and contributes to, if not causes, eczema outbreaks.
Can Hard Water be Treated in Some Way to Soften it Up?
If you believe you have hard water in your home, you may want to consider having it tested. There are myriad ways that you can treat your water to soften it up including the installation of a water filter, introduction of water softeners along with reverse osmosis which may bring some form of relief from your condition. It has been observed that people with eczema who have their hard water treated sometimes enjoy a marked reduction in symptoms. If you want to be certain the water softening efforts are given their best chance of success you would be wise to entrust the process to a qualified professional rather than trying to handle it yourself.
One More Thing…
If you suffer from eczema, you’ll want to be sure to get out and expose it to sunlight on a regular basis. Though no one is exactly sure why sun exposure seems to reduce the symptoms of atopic dermatitis in people with the condition regardless of their age. One of the leading theories having to do with why sunlight may help reduce eczema symptoms has to do with the sunlight/Vitamin D connection. More study is necessary however before any conclusions are drawn.