The term eczema describes a wide variety of conditions that cause discolored, itchy, and inflamed skin. The most common type of eczema is known as atopic dermatitis.

Eczema is more common in infants and children than in adults, although anyone can have the condition.

Sometimes, patches of eczema can become infected. This happens when a virus or bacteria gets into open wounds or cracked skin at the site of a rash. It is important for a doctor to treat infected eczema as soon as possible.

This article details what causes these infections, their signs and symptoms, and the available treatment options.

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A variety of viruses, bacteria, and fungi can cause infected eczema. The following are some of the more common microbes responsible for causing infected eczema:

S. aureus is a type of bacteria present on the skin of most people with eczema. It also lives on the skin of 20–30% of all adults without causing symptoms.

S. aureus can infect any area of broken skin. With staph infections, eczema spreads more quickly and makes healing more difficult.

C. albicans can cause fungal infection in eczema. Candida microorganisms can contribute to the onset and worsening of eczema. They are the most common cause of fungal infection in the diaper area of infants.

HSV can also cause infections in people with eczema, so it is a good idea for these individuals to avoid close contact with people with cold sores where possible.

Eczema herpeticum is the secondary infection of the skin by HSV, and it occurs in about 3% of all people with atopic dermatitis. Without the correct treatment, it can cause serious consequences and even be life threatening.

Most people with infected eczema will have an open sore in the affected area. The open sores usually develop because a person has been scratching their skin.

An infection will typically cause inflammation of the skin. This may result in a patch of eczema becoming more swollen, discolored, and, often, tender to the touch.

A person with infected eczema may also experience the following:

  • a burning sensation
  • extreme itching
  • fluid drainage
  • blistering
  • white or yellow pus

In more advanced cases, a person may experience severe symptoms, including:

If a person experiences any of these symptoms at the eczema site, they should seek medical intervention to treat the infection.

Infected eczema can lead to several complications. These will vary depending on the type of infection a person has.

Some common complications of infected eczema include:

  • prolonged eczema flare
  • increased itchiness and blisters
  • scarring

Infected eczema can also lead to more dangerous complications. For example, if left untreated, a serious staph infection may cause sepsis, a potentially life threatening type of blood infection.

In addition, severe eczema herpeticum can cause infections in the cornea of the eye, which may lead to blindness. While rare, if eczema herpeticum spreads to the internal organs, such as the brain, lungs, and liver, it can lead to organ failure.

If a person has chronic eczema flares, they should see their doctor if they develop a fever, experience chills, have low energy, or show signs of infection, such as oozing blisters and excessive itchiness.

If a child or infant develops symptoms of infected eczema, their parent or caregiver should take them to a doctor immediately.

Treatment for infected eczema varies based on the type of infection present. If the cause of the infection is a virus, a doctor may prescribe an antiviral medication. For example, people with eczema herpeticum will require immediate treatment with valacyclovir (Valtrex).

In cases of bacterial infections, a doctor may choose to use either an oral or topical antibiotic. They may also prescribe a steroid cream to reduce associated swelling and discoloration.

Fungal infections require antifungal creams or medication. Similarly, a steroid cream may help with a fungal-infected eczema rash. Some antifungal creams that may help with the infection are available over the counter.

Some people or caregivers may want to supplement medication with natural alternatives to treat or prevent infections.

People seeking natural remedies for infected eczema may choose to try the following:

  • essential oils, such as evening primrose and tea tree
  • herbal supplements for eczema flares
  • natural soaps and creams with emollients
  • oatmeal baths to help soothe and dry the eczema

However, it is important to note that these natural remedies should not take the place of prescribed treatment. People should always follow the advice of medical professionals first.

A person can help prevent infected eczema by avoiding scratching and taking steps to reduce eczema flares. These steps include:

  • Applying an emollient every day: Emollients are moisturizing products that help keep the skin intact and prevent it from drying out, easing eczema symptoms. Keeping the skin moisturized can help stop skin cracking and sores forming, reducing the risk of eczema becoming infected from outside sources. Learn more about emollients here.
  • Practicing good hygiene: This is essential when applying creams and other topical ointments. Where possible, a person with eczema should remove cream from a tub or jar with a clean implement instead of using their fingers to reduce the chance of bacteria entering the containers.
  • Taking care of flare-prone areas: For flares occurring in folds or naturally more moist areas of the skin, people should try to keep these areas dry and clean.
  • Treating flares accordingly: A person should follow the recommended treatment plan to help manage and reduce any flares.

The outlook for a person with infected eczema is generally positive. However, people should still see a doctor immediately if they experience symptoms of infected eczema. The quicker a person recognizes and responds to symptoms, the better the treatment outcome.

Doctors can often treat the causes of infected eczema with prescription medications. Depending on what is causing the infection, treatments may include antibiotics, antivirals, antifungal medication, anti-inflammatory creams, and steroid injections.

Once a person remedies the underlying cause of their eczema infection, they can then take steps to prevent a reoccurrence.

Parents or caregivers of children with eczema should monitor them and remind them not to scratch inflamed areas. Anyone who suspects that a child has a skin infection should seek medical advice immediately.

Bacteria, viruses, and fungi can infect patches of eczema if there are open wounds or sores.

When this happens, a person’s eczema may become inflamed and sore to the touch. They may also experience more severe symptoms, such as dizziness and fever, depending on what caused the infection.

Doctors can treat most causes of infected eczema with prescription medications, creams, and injections. The quicker a person treats infected eczema, the better the outcome.

People can reduce their risk of infected eczema by keeping their skin moisturized and not scratching eczema patches. These actions help keep the skin intact, preventing infection from outside sources.