COVID-19 is a type of coronavirus caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Some people with eczema may find that developing COVID-19 aggravates their symptoms.

COVID-19 is highly contagious and can present in different ways. It sometimes occurs with mild or no symptoms, while some people experience severe symptoms and complications that can lead to hospitalization or death.

Research has found links between COVID-19 and eczema flare-ups, possibly due to more frequent handwashing, increased stress, and other causes.

All data and statistics are based on publicly available data at the time of publication. Some information may be out of date. Visit our coronavirus hub for the most recent information on the COVID-19 pandemic.

This article looks at eczema and how COVID-19 might affect it. We also consider treatment and prevention for COVID-19 and eczema and when to consult a doctor.

An image of a COVID-19 test and a person with eczema.Share on Pinterest
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Eczema is an inflammatory skin condition. People often use the words eczema and atopic dermatitis interchangeably, as atopic dermatitis is the most common form of the disorder. Atopic refers to conditions involving the immune system, including eczema, hay fever, and asthma. Dermatitis refers to inflammation of the skin.

Eczema is common, affecting 31.6 million people in the United States.

Symptoms of eczema vary from person to person and are dependent on the severity of the condition, a person’s age, and other factors. People with eczema typically experience periodic flare-ups.

Symptoms generally include:

  • itching
  • patches of red, scaly, dry skin
  • sores that can open and ooze when a person scratches them

In People of Color, symptoms may also include:

  • a brown or gray rash
  • lighter or darker patches of skin which may last even when other symptoms have gone away

Evidence suggests that people with eczema are not at greater risk of contracting COVID-19 than those who do not have eczema. In people with eczema, the immune system does not work correctly, but it is not compromised. Eczema occurs due to an overactive immune system.

Interestingly, the overactive immune system in a person with eczema may be a factor in lowering the risk of COVID-19.

Research has found atopic diseases, including eczema, are associated with 23% lower odds of developing COVID-19. In addition, people with both eczema and asthma had 38% lower odds of infection.

However, COVID-19 can also exacerbate eczema symptoms.

People may experience more severe eczema symptoms more regularly because of COVID-19-related circumstances.

Frequent handwashing

SARS-CoV-2 often transmits via airborne droplets that a person breathes in. Droplets and particles may also land on surfaces or a person’s face, nose, or hands. One of the ways to avoid the spread of SARS-CoV-2 includes regular handwashing. Experts recommend people wash their hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use a hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol if soap and water are not readily available.

Frequent washing may lead to dry skin on the hands, which can become scaly and brittle and lead to an eczema flare-up. Healthcare workers with eczema may experience even greater trauma to the skin on their hands due to constant washing and infection-prevention practices.

A 2021 review found that healthcare workers in China and the UK experienced a significant increase in skin trauma due to continuous handwashing in response to COVID-19.

Changes in treatment

Without treatment, symptoms of eczema can worsen. One 2021 study involving 36 participants suggests people with eczema were less likely to seek medical care because they did not want to burden the system with nonemergency situations during the pandemic. People also found it more challenging to get appointments and lacked trust in telephone consultations.

Wearing masks

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), anyone older than 2 years should wear a well-fitting mask indoors in public areas where the COVID-19 community level is high.

For some people with eczema, a protective mask that rubs against the skin for long periods may worsen or trigger eczema.

Increased stress

Emotional stress may trigger an eczema flare-up. COVID-19 brought about many challenges and worries, which increased stress levels for many people.

There is no cure for eczema, but people can manage the condition with treatment.

Eczema treatment

A doctor or dermatologist can treat eczema with a combination of therapies, such as medication, skin care, and phototherapy.

Doctors may prescribe the following medications to treat eczema:

A doctor may also recommend skin care strategies such as moisturizing after showering or bathing and avoiding harsh skin care products or products with strong scents.

Another potential treatment option is phototherapy or light therapy. This procedure involves using ultraviolet light to reduce inflammation.

COVID-19-induced eczema treatment

To avoid drying out the hands from frequent handwashing, which may trigger an eczema flare-up, a person can try using warm water rather than hot water, pat hands dry afterward, and apply moisturizer. They may benefit from using a gentle hand cleanser for sensitive skin.

If masks irritate facial eczema, a person can invest in a soft, high quality mask that is less likely to roughly rub against the skin.

To reduce stress, a person can try relaxation techniques such as meditation and breathing exercises or reach out to the Disaster Distress Hotline by calling or texting 1-800-985-5990 for immediate crisis counseling.

COVID-19 treatment

Treatment for COVID-19 happens on a case-by-case basis, as the severity and symptoms of the virus differ between people. Treatment may involve medication, such as the corticosteroid dexamethasone or the antiviral drugs Paxlovid, molnupiravir, or Veklury (remdesivir).

There are steps a person can take to help prevent eczema and COVID-19.

Eczema

To prevent an eczema flare-up, the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases recommends that people should try:

  • following a skin care routine and moisturize with appropriate products regularly
  • preventing irritations to the skin by avoiding harsh products and clothing that rubs or irritates
  • managing stress
  • maintaining comfortable temperatures that are not too hot or cold

COVID-19

The CDC recommends that people can help prevent the spread of SARS-CoV-2 by:

  • washing their hands regularly
  • cleaning and disinfecting surfaces
  • wearing a mask
  • getting fully vaccinated
  • staying 6 feet away from others
  • avoiding poorly ventilated areas and crowds
  • covering sneezes and coughs
  • getting tested
  • taking precautions when traveling

A person with eczema should contact a doctor if:

  • eczema is affecting their day-to-day life
  • over-the-counter medication is ineffective
  • the eczema lesions look infected, with pus or red streaks
  • eczema lesions cover a large area of the body

A person with COVID-19 should seek medical care if their breathing is affected or symptoms are severe. They should call ahead to the medical facility if possible.

Research has found that people with eczema may be at a lower risk of contracting SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

However, people with eczema may experience more flare-ups due to factors brought about by COVID-19. These include dry skin from frequent handwashing, flare-ups from increased stress, and irritation caused by masks.

To reduce eczema flare-ups during the pandemic, a person should maintain a skin care routine that includes frequent moisturizing, washing hands in lukewarm water, moisturizing after washing, managing stress as best they can, and investing in a soft, high quality face mask. A person should follow CDC guidelines to help prevent coronavirus.