Eczema is a chronic skin condition that leads to redness, inflammation, and irritation of the skin. It is not contagious but infections are possible.

Approximately 1 in 10 individuals develop eczema during their lifetime. The onset of atopic dermatitis in 80% of people takes place before they are 6 years old. Atopic dermatitis is a common type of eczema.

Environmental, genetic, and socioeconomic factors can lead to the development of eczema. People with serious cases of eczema are more susceptible to other infections, such as allergic rhinitis and asthma.

This article discusses eczema in more detail, including whether it is contagious, its treatment and prevention, and answers some common questions about the condition.

Image of a person's hands holding a child's hands. The child has eczema on their hands.Share on Pinterest
Yuliya Shevtsova/EyeEm/Getty Images

Eczema is a common skin condition that leads to itchy and dry skin. A person scratching their skin may lead to swelling, redness, scaling, and weeping of clear fluid. Although most cases of eczema begin in childhood, people can develop the condition at any age.

Most people with eczema experience periods when the symptoms of the disease worsen, which they may refer to as flare-ups. Following this, the symptoms may clear up or improve.

Types of eczema

In many cases, people have more than one type of eczema on their bodies.

The different types of eczema include:

  • Atopic dermatitis: This leads to itchy, sore, and painful skin, which is vulnerable to other infections.
  • Contact dermatitis: This occurs when the skin comes in contact with an irritant or allergen.
  • Dyshidrotic eczema: This type causes dry, painful skin and usually begins as rashes and blisters.
  • Neurodermatitis: This typically leads to the development of one or two small, itchy patches of skin.
  • Nummular eczema: This leads to the formation of circular patches of skin, particularly on the arms and legs.
  • Seborrheic eczema: This occurs in areas that have many oil-producing (sebaceous) glands, such as the scalp.
  • Stasis dermatitis: This causes skin discoloration on the legs.

Causes

Doctors still do not know the exact cause of eczema. Many factors may trigger eczema and they vary from one person to another.

A few common triggers of eczema include:

  • Irritants: These may include shampoos, detergents, soaps, and disinfectants.
  • Allergens: They include weather changes, pet fur, house dust mites, molds, and pollens.
  • Foods: Some people may have an eczema flare-up after touching liquids from certain foods, such as fruits, vegetables, and meats.
  • Fabrics: Contact with some fabrics, such as wool, may cause eczema.
  • Genetics: A person may develop eczema due to a genetic mutation.
  • Stress: High levels of stress may worsen the symptoms of eczema.

Symptoms

The symptoms of eczema can vary from mild to severe. A few of the common symptoms include:

Eczema is not contagious. It cannot spread from one person to another.

However, in many cases, eczema can make the skin vulnerable to other infections, also known as secondary infections. If a person scratches their skin due to eczema, it may cause skin damage that will allow bacteria, viruses, and fungi to enter, leading to secondary infections. These secondary infections can, in turn, be contagious.

For example, people with eczema are more prone to developing serious viral infections, such as eczema herpeticum, eczema coxsackium, and eczema vaccinatum, as well as bacterial Streptococcus or Staphylococcus infections, all of which are contagious.

Although there is currently no cure for eczema, several treatment options are available. The treatment depends on the type and severity of eczema.

People should speak with a doctor to obtain an accurate and specific treatment plan for their eczema.

Medications

Some medications for eczema include:

  • Topical corticosteroids: These can help reduce itching, swelling, and inflammation. Topical corticosteroids are available as creams, ointments, sprays, and lotions.
  • Topical calcineurin inhibitors: They help reduce inflammation from eczema by suppressing certain cells of the immune system.
  • Antihistamines: They help reduce itching, swelling, and redness.
  • Emollients: These help moisturize the skin, preventing further dryness.

Therapies

Two therapies that may be useful for eczema include wet wrap therapy and phototherapy. A doctor will be able to advise if either therapy is suitable for someone.

Wet wrap therapy involves wrapping wet cloth or gauze around the affected area. A person may use the wraps over a topical medication, such as emollients or corticosteroids.

Phototherapy uses different wavelengths of UV light to reduce inflammation from severe eczema.

Tips to prevent and reduce eczema flares include:

  • taking a bath in lukewarm water for about 10 minutes to prevent excess loss of moisture
  • using a gentle cleanser and avoiding harsh scrubbing
  • avoiding rubbing the skin with a towel while drying
  • applying moisturizer or topical medication according to a doctor’s advice
  • avoiding exposure to allergens or irritants that may trigger eczema
  • avoiding scratching the skin by keeping nails short
  • managing stress

Below are some of the most common questions and answers about eczema.

What causes eczema flare-ups?

Several irritants, allergens, foods, and fabrics may lead to eczema flare-ups. However, the exact causes of eczema are still unclear.

Is eczema contagious by touching?

No, eczema is not contagious.

What is the fastest treatment for eczema?

A person should speak with a healthcare professional to determine the most effective treatment for them. Common eczema treatments include topical corticosteroids and emollients.

Eczema is a common skin disorder that may cause dry, itchy, and flaky skin. Severe cases of eczema may be difficult to treat and can cause additional infections.

Eczema is not contagious, but it can make the skin vulnerable to other serious bacterial and viral infections.

Several treatment options are available for eczema. People should speak with a doctor to receive appropriate treatment depending on the type and severity of their eczema.