Eczema is not contagious, but it can make you more prone to a skin infection that is
Eczemais not contagious, but the condition can lead to open sores that can become infected with bacteria that are contagious.
- Staph, herpes simplex, and other infections can enter the open sores left by eczema and lead to a contagious skin condition.
- It's important to seek treatment if you have infected eczema so that you do not spread it to others.
- This article was medically reviewed by Debra Jaliman, MD, a board-certified dermatologist with a private practice in New York City.
There are seven types of eczema, and none of them are contagious. However, the condition can lead to dry, cracked skin that can easily break open, offering a gateway for harmful bacteria, that can cause contagious infections.
So while eczema, itself, is not contagious, skin infections that may come from eczema can be contagious. But it can be difficult to differentiate a skin infection from the general symptoms of eczema. Here's how to tell when you may have a contagious skin infection with eczema and how to avoid spreading it.
Types and causes of eczema
Eczema is a general term that refers to different types of dermatitis, or inflammation of the skin.
According to the National Eczema Association there are 7 types of eczema:
- Atopic dermatitis
- Contact dermatitis
- Stasis dermatitis
- Seborrheic dermatitis
- Nummular eczema
- Dyshidrotic eczema
While eczema is not contagious, what causes most types is unclear. Researchers think that many types have a genetic component and some can be triggered by environmental allergens or irritants.
For example, environmental factors that can trigger flare-ups from atopic dermatitis include:
- Cold, dry air
- Being sick (with a cold or the flu, for example)
- Perfumes or dyes in skincare products
- Food allergies
- Pollution and tobacco smoke
Contact dermatitis is another type of eczema triggered by environmental factors. There are two subcategories of contact dermatitis: allergic and irritant, says Katta.
- Skincare products/cosmetics
- Rubber derivatives
- Poison ivy
Irritants that can trigger irritant contact dermatitis include:
- Rubber derivatives
Infected eczema can be contagious
Though eczema is not contagious, the skin condition can easily become infected — whether it's from dry skin that easily cracks open, or itchy skin that a person scratches until they bleed.
"In eczema, the skin barrier, especially when it is really inflamed, does not function as well to keep out bacteria and other microbes. Then, when you come in contact with bacteria, it may cause a skin infection," says Katta.
Open wounds from eczema can lead to infections that are contagious, such as:
- Eczema herpeticum
- Furuncles (AKA boils)
- Staph infections
- Herpes simplex
The appearance of infected skin will vary, but it may cause a golden crust on top of the skin, and weeping or blistering skin, says Rajani Katta MD, dermatologist and volunteer clinical faculty at Baylor College of Medicine and McGovern Medical School at UT Health.
Alternatively, your skin may be red and very warm to the touch.
Katta says infected eczema can be spread when the bacteria from infected skin is transferred to someone else's skin. Additionally, open blisters aren't the only way that the infection can spread.
"The crust or weeping sores may transmit the bacteria, but that crust doesn't actually have to touch another person's skin. If an infected person is scratching the crust, they can get the bacteria on their hands, and they can then transmit it to someone else," says Katta.
When it comes to how contagious it is, it depends on the type of infection and the skin barrier of the person. Katta says if someone who has no skin conditions comes in contact with bacteria from infected eczema, it might not cause any infection. However, if you have an impaired skin barrier (from eczema, for example) or another condition like diabetes, you will be more likely to develop an infection, says Katta.
It's important to seek treatment if you believe you have a skin infection so you do not develop complications and so that you don't pass it on to anybody else. You may be treated with oral and/or topical medications such as antibiotics or steroids.
The bottom line
Eczema is not contagious, but it can lead to infections that are. If the skin becomes infected, it is potentially dangerous and the infection may be passed along to other people if they come into contact with the infected skin.
If you believe you may have any type of eczema and are experiencing discomfort, especially if you think you have a skin infection, see a dermatologist to determine the cause, and then plan for how you can feel some relief.
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