Is Eczema Painful?

How to Describe Your Skin Pain and Find Relief

Eczema is an inflammatory skin condition that causes an itchy rash to appear on the body. Eczema can also be painful; about 61% of adults with eczema experience pain, which is a separate symptom from itchiness. The pain can be described as burning, tingling, or stinging. 

Eczema can also cause mental or emotional pain that causes symptoms like depression, anxiety, anger, and low self-esteem.

Continue reading to learn more about skin pain, burning, and other painful eczema symptoms, as well as why eczema can cause pain and what might give you relief. 

Man scratching eczema

AndreyPopov / Getty Images

How Eczema Is Painful

Healthcare providers have understood for a long time that eczema causes itchiness. However, they’re just starting to realize that many people with eczema experience pain that's separate from their itchiness. Participants in one study of adults with eczema rated their pain a six out of 10 on a zero to 10 pain scale.

Pain from eczema is most common on the hands, feet, and chest. However, it can occur anywhere that an eczema rash appears. 

Burning, Stinging, and Tingling

Oftentimes, people with eczema describe their pain as burning, stinging, or tingling. The medical community isn't certain why these sensations occur. However, the theory is that the inflammation from eczema may impact the nerves. This leads to neuropathic pain, also known as nerve pain.

Tightness and Tenderness

Other people experience muscle tightness or tenderness in the areas where their eczema appears. Like burning or tingling, this is likely linked to inflammation and may also be a form of nerve pain.

Blistering

Some people experience blistering of the skin. This is known as dyshidrotic dermatitis. These blisters, which appear most often on the feet, fingers, and hands, are associated with burning pain and itchiness. 

Infection

Skin infections are a common complication of eczema. They can occur when bacteria or viruses get into the cracks in your skin. Infections can cause additional inflammation, which may make the pain from eczema worse. If you notice symptoms of skin infection—like swelling or pus—see your healthcare provider. 

Emotional Distress

The physical symptoms of eczema can take a toll on your mental and emotional health. Adults with eczema are up to 3 times as likely as other adults to develop depression and anxiety. Kids with eczema are up to 6 times more likely to develop these conditions.

Alarmingly, eczema can even increase the risk of suicide. Adults with eczema are 44% more like to have suicidal ideation (thoughts of suicide), and 36% are more like to attempt suicide.

Dial 988 to reach the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline from anywhere in the country. If you have thoughts of suicide, call 911 and seek help immediately.

Relief Measures for Eczema Skin Pain

Finding relief from eczema pain may take some time and experimentation. The treatment for pain is to control the itching and inflammation through eczema treatments. When those are controlled, people often report less pain.

One study looking specifically at eczema pain found that the following treatments can help:

  • Cool temperatures or compresses, including a cool, wet towel
  • Regularly moisturizing
  • Reducing stress
  • Getting more sleep
  • Using over-the-counter topical steroid creams.  

Some medications have also shown promise in treating eczema pain, although more studies are needed. Ask your healthcare provider about:

Unfortunately, the symptoms of eczema are notoriously hard to control. About 55% of adults with eczema say their condition is not well-controlled. A combination of lifestyle adjustments, over-the-counter remedies, prescriptions, procedures, and complementary medicines may help control eczema symptoms and reduce pain. 

When to See a Healthcare Provider 

Anytime that you have a new or worsening symptom, including pain, you should see your healthcare provider. They may be able to discuss new treatments and management routines to help you better control your eczema. Always call your provider immediately if you have signs of infection, and call 988 if you have thoughts of suicide. 

Dermatologist Recommendations 

A dermatologist, a medical specialist diagnosing and treating conditions of the skin, hair, and nails, can guide you to specific pain medication that may be most effective for you. Ask your primary care provider for a recommendation to a dermatologist, or find one through the American Academy of Dermatology Association's directory

Summary

Pain is an often-overlooked symptom of eczema. Yet, more than 60% of adults with eczema report pain, which can sometimes be intense. Researchers are still trying to learn why this happens, but they believe it may be caused by nerve damage due to inflammation. Home remedies—like a cold compress—and treating eczema with prescription medications may help reduce pain. 

A Word From Verywell

Eczema can have a huge impact on your life, especially if you experience burning, stinging, or tingling pain. The pain from eczema isn’t just physical; it can be emotional and mental too.

Don’t hesitate to reach out to a counselor or mental health professional who is experienced in working with people with chronic health concerns. They, along with your dermatologist, can help you learn to manage your condition and its mental and emotional impacts. 

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How do you describe what eczema pain feels like?

    Many people with eczema describe the pain as burning, tingling, or stinging. Some people also experience soreness or tenderness. 

  • What’s the intensity of eczema pain?

    About half of adults with eczema say that their pain measures at least six out of ten. For many people, the pain can be intense, especially since it is persistent. 

  • Should you go to the hospital for eczema skin pain?

    It’s best to try to treat pain before it becomes so intense you need to go to the hospital. If you start experiencing new or worsening pain, reach out to your healthcare provider. If you are having an emergency or are in debilitating pain, go to the hospital.

5 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. National Eczema Foundation. Eczema stats.

  2. National Eczema Society. The mind-body connection.

  3. Johnson, Jodi. It’s not itch — it’s pain. National Eczema Association.

  4. National Eczema Association. Dyshidrotic eczema.

  5. National Health Services. Complications (atopic eczema).

By Kelly Burch
Kelly Burch is has written about health topics for more than a decade. Her writing has appeared in The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, and more.