An Overview of Infected Eczema

Eczema is a chronic skin condition that cracks, dries, inflames, and irritates the skin. When the skin is affected by eczema, there is a greater risk of it becoming infected, which can lead to a bacterial or viral infection.

Infected Eczema Signs

Verywell / Laura Porter

What Are the Signs of Infected Eczema? 

When your skin becomes cracked, broken, and inflamed with eczema, it increases the risk of bacteria or viruses entering the skin membrane. An eczema rash is also typically very itchy, which will cause you to scratch your skin.

Scratching your skin can cause small breaks in the skin, which increases the risk of it becoming infected since bacteria and viruses can more easily enter the body. The most common form of bacterial infection is from staphylococcus bacteria, which causes a staph infection.

Signs of a bacterial infection include:

  • Pus oozing from eczema patches
  • Dry, yellow crust on the surface of the skin
  • Fluid-filled blisters
  • Open sores
  • Skin swelling
  • Warm or hot skin
  • Increased redness

Eczema herpeticum is a form of infected eczema that occurs from the herpes simplex virus (HSV), the same virus that causes cold sores. Eczema herpeticum causes a widespread red rash with fluid-filled blisters and occurs most commonly in children with atopic dermatitis.

With atopic dermatitis, the outermost layer of the skin becomes more vulnerable, increasing the risk of infection by bacteria and viruses.

The larger the surface area of the skin affected by atomic dermatitis, the higher the risk of developing eczema herpeticum. The red rash with fluid-filled blisters most commonly affects the face, neck, and upper torso.

Other signs of a viral infection include:

  • Painful eczema patches that worsen over time
  • Fluid-filled blisters that can break open and turn into open sores

Eczema herpeticum is a viral infection that occurs with other skin conditions and forms of eczema like atopic dermatitis, irritant contact dermatitis, and seborrheic dermatitis.

Infected Eczema Symptoms

The physical skin changes of infected eczema are often accompanied by systemic symptoms like fever, malaise or a general feeling of unwellness, and swollen lymph nodes. Your normal eczema symptoms may also get worse quickly and not respond to regular eczema treatment like steroid medication.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Effectively identifying and diagnosing infected eczema can help prevent complications and decrease the severity of symptoms. Diagnosis of a staph infection, another bacterial infection, or eczema herpeticum can be made with a bacteria or virus culture. Your affected skin area will be swabbed and the sample will be sent to a lab for testing under a microscope.

Bacterial infections are treated with antibiotics, either a topical one that is applied to the skin or an oral form that is taken as a pill. For viral infections like eczema herpeticum, the primary treatment is acyclovir, an oral antiviral drug that slows the growth and spread of the herpes virus. If severe complications are present, systemic intravenous antiviral medication and hospitalization may be required.

Because a secondary bacterial staph infection can occur after eczema herpeticum develops, preventative antibiotics, such as cephalexin, clindamycin, doxycycline, or trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole, are often prescribed alongside antiviral medications to reduce complications.

Ways to Prevent Infected Eczema

To prevent eczema from becoming infected, it is important to wash your affected skin areas regularly to help remove bacteria and viruses.

Harsh soaps and cleansers should be avoided to reduce skin irritation, and your skin should be patted dry with a towel. Rubbing your skin with a towel may be too abrasive and can increase skin irritation.

Regularly moisturizing your skin can help prevent it from drying out and cracking, which helps reduce the likelihood of bacteria and viruses entering through the skin. Avoid dipping your fingers into jars of creams or moisturizers since this can contaminate the jar. 

Using a spoon or tongue depressor to remove a small amount of moisturizer can help prevent infection. Using a tube or pump applicator helps decrease the risk of spreading viruses and bacteria by avoiding contamination.

Always wash your hands before applying topical treatment to your skin, and avoid sharing clothing, bedding, and towels with other people.

When to Seek Professional Help

Eczema that continues to worsen over time and does not improve with usual treatment like steroid medication can be an indicator of a bacterial or viral infection, especially when accompanied by pain, warmth, swelling, increased redness, blisters, and pus.

If any of these signs and symptoms are present, see your doctor immediately to determine if you have an infection. Early diagnosis and treatment are crucial to prevent serious complications. 

Summary

Eczema causes dry and itchy skin, which can make you want to scratch it. However, scratching it will break your skin and increase the risk of infections. If your eczema is not responding to its usual treatment, you may have infected eczema. Watch out for skin warmth, redness, fluid-filled bumps, yellow crust on your skin, swelling, open sores, and pus oozing from eczema patches. It’s important to seek help from your doctor if you have these signs.

A Word From Verywell

Infected eczema can cause serious complications if left untreated. If you develop any unusual symptoms such as fever, swollen lymph nodes, pain, skin blistering, or pus oozing from your skin, you should schedule a visit with your doctor. These are potential signs of a skin infection.

Swabbing the skin and sending the sample to be tested at a lab can help confirm a diagnosis. This can help guide treatment with antibiotic or antiviral medication to fight the infection and avoid complications.

Frequently Asked Questions

How does infected eczema lead to a staph infection? 

A staph infection can either be the cause of your infected eczema, or it can develop after you have already developed a viral form of infected eczema. The latter occurs due to decreased strength of your skin barrier from preventing entry of pathogens like viruses and bacteria.

What are the top causes of infected eczema?

The top causes of infected eczema are staph infections from staphylococcal bacteria and virus infections from the herpes simplex virus. 

What is the best way to treat infected eczema at home?

The best way to treat infected eczema at home is to use topical antibiotic or antiviral medication and practice good hygiene by regularly washing affected skin areas, moisturizing the skin, avoiding abrasive cleansers and fabrics, and not sharing towels, bedding, or clothing to minimize risk of infection. 

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3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Is that eczema or an infection on my child’s skin?

  2. Liaw FY, Huang CF, Hsueh JT, Chiang CP. Eczema herpeticum: a medical emergency. Can Fam Physician. 2012;58(12):1358-1361.

  3. National Eczema Society. Skin infections and eczema.