Eczema (atopic dermatitis) is not caused by an infection. It is a skin condition that causes inflammation, dryness, and itching. The precise cause of eczema is unknown, but it is thought to be a combination of genetic, environmental, and immune system factors.
While eczema itself is not an infection, the persistent scratching and damage to the skin caused by eczema can make the skin more vulnerable to secondary bacterial or viral infections. The most common bacteria associated with secondary infections in eczema are Staphylococcus aureus and Streptococcus pyogenes. These bacteria can colonize the broken skin and cause infections, which can worsen the symptoms of eczema.
It is essential for individuals with eczema to take proper care of their skin, keep it moisturized, and avoid scratching to reduce the risk of secondary infections. If a secondary infection does occur, medical attention should be sought promptly to receive appropriate treatment.
Remember that eczema is not contagious, and it is not caused by any single infection. If you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms of eczema, consult a healthcare professional or a dermatologist for an accurate diagnosis and personalized management plan.
An infection from Staphylococcus, Streptococcus, or other bacteria is just one cause of infected eczema. Others include fungal infections (especially from Candida) and viral infections.
People with eczema may be more prone to herpes simplex viruses, so it’s important to avoid others who have cold sores.
Eczema itself isn’t contagious, and most infected cases usually aren’t either. However, some of the causes of the infection may be contagious to people who have eczema, such as exposure to herpes simplex.
If you have eczema with frequent broken skin, it’s important to take care around others who have herpes simplex. The telltale sign of this is usually a cold sore.
The way you treat infected eczema depends on whether it was caused by a virus, bacteria, or fungi. Viral infections may be treated with antiviral medications or allowed to heal themselves.
Antibiotics are used in bacterial infections. Mild bacterial-infected eczema is treated with a topical antibiotic first. A steroid cream may also be used to reduce inflammation.
Oral antibiotics are reserved for more severe cases of infected eczema. They’re also used for infections that have spread to other parts of your body.
A fungal infection may also be treated with steroids. It’s treated with topical antifungal creams as well.
Some people prefer using natural treatments in addition to prescription medications. This is due to the long-term side effects of steroids, such as thinning skin.
You may consider the following natural treatments, as well as the pros and cons of each:
- herbal supplements for eczema flares, such as primrose oil
- essential oils, such as borage, evening primrose, and tea tree
- probiotics, to offset gastrointestinal side effects from antibiotics
- natural soaps and creams with emollients, to decrease skin inflammation
Be aware that natural treatments for eczema and skin infections haven’t been widely studied for safety or efficacy.
Make sure you discuss all these options with your doctor first before trying them out.
Home treatments are another option for infected eczema, but they’re often used in conjunction with other therapies. Talk to your doctor about the following home remedies:
- oatmeal baths
- Epsom salt baths
- emollient wraps (which may also contain calamine lotion or coal tar)
Infected eczema may lead to the following complications:
- worsening eczema symptoms
- longer healing times for eczema because the infection must be treated first before the eczema flare can heal
- resistance to topical steroids after frequent use
- growth problems in children from topical steroids
Other complications require immediate medical care. A staph infection that has progressed can cause blood poisoning.
You may need to go to the hospital if you start experiencing:
- low energy
- excessive fatigue
Infants and young children are the most vulnerable to blood poisoning from bacterial infections, so monitor these age groups carefully.
The outlook for infected eczema depends on the severity and type of infection. You should notice an improvement in your symptoms several days after starting treatment.
Treating the infection doesn’t mean you won’t be at risk for future bouts of infected eczema.
Take preventive measures so you can stop eczema flares from getting infected. Managing eczema flare-ups can also go a long way in preventing related infections.
During an eczema flare, it’s important to keep your skin as healthy as possible to avoid infection.
Avoid scratching your skin as best as you can. Scratching breaks your skin and increases your risk of infection.
It’s also important to keep the rashes moisturized for extra protection.
Topical immunomodulators and oral steroids may help decrease inflammation. Your dermatologist may also suggest ultraviolet light therapy.
Antihistamines such as cetirizine (Zyrtec) or diphenhydramine (Benadryl) can help alleviate itching.
It can also help to identify possible eczema triggers and avoid them. Possibilities include:
- certain foods you may be sensitive to, such as nuts and dairy products
- pollen and other airborne allergens
- animal dander
- synthetic or itchy fabrics
- fragrances and dyes, especially in soaps and other hygiene products
- hormone fluctuations
Atopic dermatitis can result in skin that’s itchy, dry, sensitive, inflamed, red, or scaly. A dermatologist can diagnose the cause of your condition. They can also suggest treatments — such as over-the-counter creams, prescription topical medications, antihistamines, antibiotics, immunomodulators, immunosuppressants, biologic drugs, and phototherapy — to help relieve symptoms and skin infections.
Living with atopic dermatitis increases the risk of depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions. A psychologist, licensed professional counselor, or clinical social worker can diagnose mental health conditions and use psychotherapy to help you find ways to cope. A psychiatrist can prescribe medication, if necessary.
People with atopic dermatitis have higher rates of asthma and hay fever. An allergist or immunologist can diagnose the cause of respiratory symptoms and let you know if you have asthma. They can also provide treatments, such as inhalers, nebulizers, and medications, to help control asthma and relieve symptoms of allergies.
People with atopic dermatitis face a higher risk of heart disease, stroke, and high blood pressure. Cardiologists specialize in treating heart conditions. They can screen you for signs of heart disease and prescribe medications, if necessary. They can also offer recommendations for making lifestyle changes, such as starting an exercise routine, that can reduce your risk of heart disease.
Itchiness from severe atopic dermatitis can make it difficult to sleep at night. Sleep specialists are doctors who are specially trained in managing sleep issues. They can help you find solutions to sleeping better, such as improving your sleep hygiene, making lifestyle changes, trying bedroom modifications, and taking prescribed medications, if necessary.