Skin Infections and Eczema

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itchy hands with irritated skin rash

Eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis, refers to a group of conditions that cause itchy, red inflammation of your skin. Not only can eczema be irritating and uncomfortable, but it can disrupt your skin’s barrier through open sores or breaks in your skin. When this layer of protection is broken, germs including bacteria or viruses can enter your skin and may cause infection. If you or a loved one have eczema, it’s helpful to know how to recognize signs of a skin infection and understand how it is treated.

5 Things You Didn't Know About Stubborn Eczema

Learn to differentiate normal eczema from infected eczema.

Eczema can look like red, dry patches of skin, but it can also appear as bumps or blisters. When infected, you may notice your eczema seems worse than normal and isn’t responding to your typical at-home treatments. Your affected skin may also:

  • Feel warm or painful to the touch
  • Be crusty and yellow
  • Ooze fluid
  • Develop red streaks

In some cases, you can also spike a fever or have flu-like symptoms, such as chills and fatigue.

Staph infections are most common.

Staphylococcus aureus, or “staph” for short, is a type of bacteria frequently found on our skin’s surface, but it appears to be found in even greater amounts on the skin of people with eczema. Eczema makes it more likely you’ll scratch your skin, creating small openings for the bacteria to enter. A staph infection may manifest itself in the following ways:

  • Boils: Staph is the most common cause of boils. A boil develops when a hair follicle becomes infected and usually appears as a red, swollen lump. Boils are filled with pus that may break open and drain. They are most likely to appear on your head, face, neck, armpits, thighs, or buttocks.
  • Impetigo: This type of skin infection is considered contagious. Impetigo is characterized by painful, oozing blisters that form honey-colored crusts on the open sores.
  • Cellulitis: If the infection goes deep into your skin, cellulitis can develop. The affected area often becomes very red, warm, swollen and painful. You may feel ill and have a fever. Blisters, streaks on the skin, or ulcerations in the skin may appear. It is often seen on the lower extremities, though it can occur anywhere on your body.

Eczema-related bacterial infections, like staph, are generally easily treated with antibiotics. But it’s important to notify your doctor if you experience symptoms, so you can be evaluated and treated promptly. 

The herpes virus can also cause infected eczema.

Herpes simplex 1 is a virus that typically causes cold sores around your mouth. But if you have eczema, it can cause a more serious infection called eczema herpeticum. It’s spread through skin-to-skin contact and appears most frequently in children.

Eczema herpeticum can look like small red, purple, or black blisters, often found on the face or neck. The blisters may be painful and itchy and can drain if they break open. Symptoms can also include fever, swollen lymph nodes, and feeling sick overall.

Serious complications are possible, including eye infections and organ failure, though these can be minimized with quick treatment with antiviral medications. Still, prevention by avoiding contact with people who have cold sores or who are known to have untreated herpes virus is always preferred.

Other bacteria, viruses, and fungi can cause eczema skin infections as well. Always seek the advice of a healthcare professional if you have concerns about your eczema or worsening symptoms.

By treating your eczema effectively and caring for your skin, you can avoid infections. Talk to your doctor about finding the right treatment to keep your eczema under control.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Apr 28
  1. Atopic Dermatitis (Eczema). Mayo Clinic.
  2. Conditions Related to Eczema. National Eczema Association.
  3. Eczema Herpeticum. National Eczema Association.
  4. Is that Eczema or an Infection on my Child’s Skin? American Academy of Dermatology Association.
  5. Staph infections. Mayo Clinic.
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