How to Identify, Treat, and Prevent Infected Eczema

Medically reviewed by University of Illinois-Chicago, School of Medicine on April 27, 2017Written by Kristeen Cherney

What is infected eczema?

Eczema (atopic dermatitis) is a type of skin inflammation that can cause a variety of symptoms, from an itchy red rash to patchy sores. Open sores — especially from scratching eczema — can allow viruses, bacteria, and fungus to enter the skin. This can resualt in an infection.

Infected eczema is common in people who have frequent sores and open wounds associated with their condition. However, not all people with eczema will experience infections.

It’s important to learn the signs of infected eczema so you can seek the appropriate treatment measures. Sometimes the infection warrants treatment from a doctor to prevent further complications.

Pictures of infected eczema

How to identify infected eczema

Signs of eczema that’s infected can include:

  • severe itchiness
  • new burning sensations
  • blistered skin
  • fluid drainage
  • white or yellow pus

A severe infection can also cause fever and chills, as well as other symptoms that mimic the flu.

When to see your doctor

You should always see a doctor if you have symptoms of a skin infection. At your appointment, they will look at your skin and may take a sample to determine the type of infection you have. You will then be prescribed the proper type of medication based on the source of your infection.

Your doctor can also offer treatments for the underlying eczema flare that has contributed to the infection. They will discuss prescription methods such as steroids for inflammation, as well as lifestyle measures.

Eczema and staph Infection

Staphylococcus is a type of bacteria that lives on your skin, where it doesn’t usually cause an infection. Staph infections can occur when the bacteria enter wounds from eczema or broken skin within your rashes.

Having eczema doesn’t mean you’ll automatically get a staph infection, but it does make you more prone to bacterial skin infections. So it’s important to be aware of the signs of staph infection in case the bacteria enter broken skin.

Symptoms include:

  • increased redness
  • raised skin that looks like boils
  • clear to yellow-colored drainage
  • increased itchiness
  • pain at the site of infection

Other causes of infected eczema

An infection from Staphylococcus, Streptococcus, or other bacteria is just one cause of infected eczema. Others include fungal infections (especially from Candida) and viral infections.

People with eczema may be more prone to herpes simplex viruses, so it’s important to avoid others who have cold sores.

Eczema itself isn’t contagious, and most infected cases usually aren’t either. However, some of the causes of the infection may be contagious to people who have eczema, such as exposure to herpes simplex. If you have eczema with frequent broken skin, it’s important to take care around others who have herpes simplex. The tall-tale sign of this is usually a cold sore.

How infected eczema is treated

The way you treat infected eczema depends on whether it was caused by virus, bacteria, or fungus. Viral infections may be treated with anti-viral medications or allowed to heal themselves.

Antibiotics are used in bacterial infections. Mild bacterial-infected eczema is treated with a topical antibiotic first. A steroid cream may also be used to reduce inflammation. Oral antibiotics are reserved for more severe cases of infected eczema. They are also used for infection that has spread to other parts of your body.

A fungal infection may also be treated with steroids. It’s treated with topical antifungal creams as well.

Natural treatments for infected eczema

Some people prefer using natural treatments in addition to prescription medications. This is due to the long-term side effects of steroids, such as thinning skin.

You may consider the following natural treatments, as well as the pros and cons of each. Be aware that natural treatments for eczema and skin infection haven’t been widely studied for safety or efficacy.

  • herbal supplements for eczema flares, such as primrose oil
  • essential oils, such as borage, evening primrose, and tea tree
  • probiotics, to offset gastrointestinal side effects from antibiotics
  • natural soaps and creams with emollients, to decrease skin inflammation

Make sure you discuss all these options with your doctor first before trying them out.

Home treatments are another option for infected eczema, but they’re often used in conjunction with other therapies. Talk to your doctor about the following home remedies:

  • oatmeal baths
  • Epsom salt baths
  • emollient wraps (which may also contain calamine lotion or coal tar)

Other possible complications

Infected eczema may lead to the following complications:

  • worsening eczema symptoms
  • longer healing times for eczema, because the infection must be treated first before the eczema flare can heal
  • resistance to topical steroids after frequent use
  • growth problems in children from topical steroids

Other complications require immediate medical care. A staph infection that has progressed can cause blood poisoning. You may need to go to the hospital if you start experiencing:

  • fever
  • chills
  • low energy
  • excessive fatigue

Infants and young children are the most vulnerable to blood poisoning from bacterial infections, so monitor these age groups carefully.

The outlook for infected eczema

The outlook for infected eczema depends on the severity and type of infection. You should notice an improvement in your symptoms several days after starting treatment.

Treating the infection doesn’t mean you won’t be at risk for future bouts of infected eczema. Take preventive measures so you can stop eczema flares from getting infected. Controlling eczema flare-ups can also go a long way in preventing related infections.

Tips for prevention

During an eczema flare, it’s important to keep your skin as healthy as possible to avoid infection. Avoid scratching your skin as best as you can. Scratching breaks your skin and increases your risk for infection. It’s also important to keep the rashes moisturized for extra protection.

Topical immunomodulators and oral steroids may help decrease inflammation. Your dermatologist may also suggest ultraviolet light therapy.

Antihistamines such as cetirizine (Zyrtec) or diphenhydramine (Benadryl) can help alleviate itching.

It can also help to identify possible eczema triggers and avoid them. Possibilities include:

  • certain foods you may be sensitive to, such as nuts and dairy products
  • pollen and other airborne allergens
  • animal dander
  • synthetic or itchy fabrics
  • fragrances and dyes, especially in soaps and other hygiene products
  • hormone fluctuations
  • heat
  • sweating
  • stress
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