Itchy, flaky, dry skin can disturb your daily life and be unpleasant to experience, and may be a sign of eczema.
While it’s possible to get this skin condition under control, the occasional flare-up does occur from time to time, and if you or someone you love experiences eczema flare-ups, you know how uncomfortable it can be.
Eczema is fairly common, but many people are still widely misinformed about what causes it.
It’s important to have the right information so you can find safe, effective treatment.
Here, we’ll cover what eczema is, whether or not it’s contagious, what causes it, and more.
What is Eczema?
Affecting nearly 30 million people in the United States, the condition is quite common and can affect individuals at any age.
Eczema can flare up in different parts of your body.
For many, it causes an itchy rash.
Often, eczema causes patches of dry or itchy skin that can appear red in color, or may appear lighter or darker than the rest of a person’s skin.
Sometimes, you might experience scaly skin or flaky patches.
With proper treatment, eczema—as well as the discomfort you may feel from its symptoms—can be managed.
Is it Contagious?
Eczema is not contagious, which means that if you are in close contact—including skin-to-skin contact with someone who has eczema—you will not “catch” it.
Eczema is not caused by a fungus, virus, or bacteria that can spread to others.
What Causes Eczema?
Eczema can be caused by a variety of factors, from genetics to irritants or allergens in your environment, as well as the natural bacteria and the yeast on your skin.
Skin irritants, like certain fragrances, nickel jewelry, and drying soaps or cleaning products, can cause a common type of eczema known as contact dermatitis or allergic eczema.
Eczema can also be caused by certain abnormalities in the immune system, by taking certain medications, and can affect those who are immunocompromised.
Environmental triggers like weather, particularly dry air and cold weather, may cause an eczema flare-up.
In the winter, it can be helpful to wear a thick, fragrance free moisturizer and cotton gloves to protect your hands.
Prolonged exposure to moisture, like excessive sweating or wearing damp clothes in the summer, may also cause an eczema flare-up.
Excessive exposure to hot water may also trigger eczema.
It can help to keep a symptom diary to figure out your own specific triggers.
Another common eczema trigger is stress, so practicing general wellness and self-care, staying hydrated, eating foods that make your body feel good, and getting a proper amount of sleep and exercise can all help minimize symptoms and flares.
How Does Eczema Spread?
Eczema does not spread from person to person.
It can spread to different parts of your body, but not from contact.
Using the treatment and prevention methods recommended by your doctor or health care provider can help keep eczema from spreading.
Can Eczema Become Infected?
Because eczema can affect the skin barrier, individuals with an active rash of eczema are at a higher risk for a secondary infection caused by bacteria, yeast, or viruses.
Scratching can cause open sores that are also at increased risk of infection.
Inflammation and cracks in the skin also makes it easier for a herpes infection to spread.
Eczema herpeticum presents as small blisters that fill with fluid and pop.
The blisters can be quite sore.
A staph or strep infection of eczema can cause a condition called impetigo, which can cause red, painful sores that develop honey-colored crusts.
This requires an antibiotic ointment or an oral antibiotic to treat.
Itching is a common symptom of eczema and it can be hard to resist the urge to scratch, but try your best to avoid scratching, which can damage the skin and increase your risk of infections.
When to See a Doctor
It is always a good idea to consult with your primary care provider if you’re concerned about eczema or another rash.
If you are experiencing severe eczema symptoms that are persistent and frequent, it may be time to visit a dermatologist or skin care specialist.
There are a number of prescription medications and creams, and over-the-counter treatments, that your provider can recommend.
If you suspect your eczema may be infected or have sudden changes in symptoms, seek attention from a medical professional.
Signs of infection include redness, warmth, pus-filled bumps, cold sores or blisters, increasing pain, and fever.
Any rash that is accompanied by symptoms of oral swelling, difficulty breathing, wheezing, or nausea and vomiting, may be a sign of an anaphylactic reaction, which is a medical emergency.
Call 911 or present to an ER right away if you experience those symptoms.
If you are experiencing symptoms of depression or anxiety, it is important to consult a health care provider.
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