Itching to Know: is Eczema Contagious?

Curated by Claudia Shannon / Research Scientist / ishonest

Eczema is a chronic skin condition that causes itchy, red, scaly rashes to appear. Various triggers are typically to blame for an eczema rash, and these triggers differ for each person.

If your body were “The Office,” eczema would be Toby. It doesn’t get a lot of screen time, it shows up uninvited, and even moving to Costa Rica won’t keep it from coming back. And if that eczema’s infected, it can stick around even longer.

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So how can you tell if you’re dealing with an infection? Here are the deets.

What causes eczema in the first place?

There are several eczema types, and which one you’re dealing with can affect your specific triggers.

Identifying your unique triggers can help you manage, treat, or even prevent eczema flare-ups that could lead to infection.

Atopic dermatitis

Atopic dermatitis is the most common type of eczema. It’s typically genetic and usually shows up in childhood. But some folks don’t experience symptoms until their teen or adult years.

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Triggers can include:

  • dry skin
  • environmental irritants
  • stress
  • allergies
  • heat and sweat
  • illness

It may seem contagious if several members of the same family have it, but it’s just pesky genetics.

Allergic eczema

Allergic eczema is also fairly common and can be genetic. Rashes from this type of eczema are triggered by allergens like:

  • foods
  • fabrics
  • pollen
  • pet dander
  • mold
  • dyes or fragrances
Contact dermatitis

Those with sensitive skin may experience contact dermatitis. In this type of eczema, flare-ups are triggered by contact with irritants or allergens.

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Common eczema-inducing irritants include:

  • certain fabrics
  • dyes
  • fragrances
  • certain metals (like nickel)
  • certain body products
  • cigarette smoke

So how can eczema get infected?

Even though eczema itself isn’t contagious, it does leave your skin vulnerable to infection.

Eczema rashes are usually itchy AF, and it can be hard not to scratch the heck outta them. But scratching can cause cracks and tears in your skin, leaving small wounds open for infection.

Infected eczema can be caused by:

  • bacteria (like Staphylococcus)
  • viruses (like the herpes simplex virus)
  • fungi (like yeast infection-causing Candida)
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According to the National Eczema Association, a staph infection is the most common eczema-related infection. Since staph bacteria are naturally found on your skin, they basically have a Fast Pass to any open wound.

While the eczema itself isn’t contagious, infected eczema as the result of a staph infection can be contagious. Close contact with others can spread the infection as efficiently as Lady Whistledown’s gossip.

How to treat infected eczema ASAP

How you treat infected eczema depends on what type of infection you’re dealing with.

If you think your eczema is infected, contact your doctor or dermatologist to figure out your next steps. Treatment may look like this:

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Your doc might also suggest you use corticosteroid creams to help calm the inflammation that comes with eczema and an infection.

How can I prevent eczema from getting infected?

Even though there’s no cure for eczema, there are ways to prevent infections when flare-ups, well, flare up:

  • Resist the itch. Yes, we know — this one’s hard. But avoiding scratching an itchy eczema rash helps keep the skin from cracking and breaking open.
  • Lather up. Applying lotion to the affected area will keep it nice and moisturized. This can help keep itching at bay so you aren’t tempted to scratch away. There are many moisturizers for dry skin — and for eczema specifically — that you can try.
  • Avoid harsh chemicals. Stick with mild cleansers without soap, dyes, or heavy scents. These can irritate already irate skin.
  • Tame those triggers. Knowing what your triggers are and avoiding them can help keep flare-ups from worsening. It may also help increase the time between flare-ups, so you stay eczema-free longer.
  • Talk to your derm. Your dermatologist can help you zero in on which kind of eczema you have. They can then recommend the best ways to manage and prevent flare-ups.

Bottom line

While eczema itself isn’t contagious, it can make your skin vulnerable to infections that are.

Use moisturizer, avoid harsh chemicals that can irritate wounds or cracked skin, and resist the urge to scratch affected areas.

If you think your eczema is infected, contact your doctor or dermatologist. They can help you treat any infections and manage your eczema.

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