Is Eczema Contagious?

  • Medical Author:
    Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

    Dr. Charles "Pat" Davis, MD, PhD, is a board certified Emergency Medicine doctor who currently practices as a consultant and staff member for hospitals. He has a PhD in Microbiology (UT at Austin), and the MD (Univ. Texas Medical Branch, Galveston). He is a Clinical Professor (retired) in the Division of Emergency Medicine, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, and has been the Chief of Emergency Medicine at UT Medical Branch and at UTHSCSA with over 250 publications.

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

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What is eczema?

Eczema is an inflammatory condition of the skin where patches of skin become rough and inflamed, often producing tiny fluid-filled bumps that can leak clear fluid. Eczema can occur at any age and is often chronic. The condition has a tendency to periodically worsen and then subside. Eczema is a general term that includes many different types of skin problems. Eczema is also referred to as atopic dermatitis.

Is eczema contagious?

The most common form of eczema (dermatitis) is atopic dermatitis and is not contagious. However, if the raw, irritated skin of eczema becomes infected, the infecting agent may be contagious. The exact cause of atopic dermatitis is not known, but because it often occurs in family members, it is felt that a person's inherited genes may play a role in its development.

When does eczema appear? How will I know if I have eczema?

Some forms of atopic dermatitis start early in life (before 2 years of age) while others begin after 20 years of age. Rough, inflamed patches of skin may suggest eczema, particularly if the skin lesions intensify and then subside. The following criteria help physicians diagnose the disease:

  • Itchiness
  • Skin changes that very with age
  • Chronic and relapsing skin changes
  • Xerosis (dry skin)
  • Elevated Immunoglobulin E activity
  • History of asthma or hay fever
  • History of close relatives with eczema
  • Symptom onset younger than 2 years of age

No specific test or blood markers exist for the diagnosis of atopic dermatitis so the diagnosis is made by skin's appearance.

How does eczema spread?

Eczema does not spread from person to person. However, it can spread to various parts of the body (for example, the face, cheeks, and chin [of infants] and the neck, wrist, knees, and elbows [of adults]). Scratching the skin can make eczema worse.

Is there a cure for eczema?

Unfortunately, there is no known cure for atopic dermatitis. Topical steroids along with skin moisturization currently are the major treatments for eczema. Severe eczema treatment usually includes several drugs and is carefully monitored by a dermatologist.

Quick GuideEczema (Atopic Dermatitis) Causes, Symptoms, Treatment

Eczema (Atopic Dermatitis) Causes, Symptoms, Treatment

Eczema Symptoms and Signs

Almost all patients with eczema complain of itching. Since the appearance of most types of eczema is similar, the distribution of the eruption can be of great help in distinguishing one type from another.

When should someone seek medical care for eczema?

Eczema is usually not considered a medical emergency. People with eczema should contact a doctor if itching is interfering with daily activities and/or sleep, the crusting and oozing is increasing, the rash is becoming more widespread on the body, and/or painful cracks develop in the skin of the extremities. If areas of eczema produce pus and/or red streaks are extending from the eczema skin lesions, and/or there is fever, medical care should be sought immediately as a secondary infection may be present.

REFERENCES:

"Eczema." National Eczema Association. <http://nationaleczema.org/eczema/>.

Kim, Brian S. "Atopic Dermatitis Workup." Medscape.com. Apr. 6, 2017. <http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/1049085-workup>.

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Reviewed on 11/15/2017
References
REFERENCES:

"Eczema." National Eczema Association. <http://nationaleczema.org/eczema/>.

Kim, Brian S. "Atopic Dermatitis Workup." Medscape.com. Apr. 6, 2017. <http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/1049085-workup>.

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