Eczema (Atopic Dermatitis) Is Not Contagious

You can educate others about the causes of the condition

Girl embraces sick brother with eczema

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If you have eczema, one of the first things you learn is that your symptoms are not contagious. That is, you can’t spread it if someone touches your skin. You also can’t spread it by breathing or sneezing near someone—it isn’t that kind of disease.

However, if someone sees that you have an area of inflamed skin, they might worry that you have a medical condition that might spread. That’s somewhat understandable, since eczema might look like an infectious kind of condition to someone who isn’t a medical professional and doesn’t know your health details. Though this can be frustrating to explain, you can usually offer them reassurance by explaining the causes and nature of your skin problem.

Understanding Eczema

Eczema, also known as dermatitis, is a relatively common chronic inflammatory condition affecting the skin. The most common kind of eczema is atopic dermatitis. That’s usually the kind people mean if they use the word “eczema.” It causes symptoms like itchy, red, and scaly skin. The intense itching can lead to further scratching and inflammation and irritation of the skin. Sometimes the skin might bleed or ooze clear fluid.

A genetic defect in a specific protein (filaggrin) is thought to be part of the cause of atopic dermatitis. In this condition, the filaggrin protein in the epidermis (the outer layer of skin) is not as strong as it should be. Because of this, cells in the immune system might be exposed to parts of the environment that they wouldn’t otherwise see. Different environmental exposures may then trigger symptoms of the condition, leading to the inflammation seen in atopic dermatitis.

A Non-contagious Disease

An inflammatory disorder like atopic dermatitis is not contagious. It is not caused by an infection by a virus, bacteria, or other pathogen that you can “catch” from someone else. You can’t get it by direct touching, or by touching something that someone with eczema has used. You can’t get it by kissing or having sex. You also can’t get it if someone with eczema sneezes on you, or if you are breathing nearby to them.

There are other kinds of eczema that are likewise not contagious. For example, you might get red and itchy skin from contact dermatitis (contact eczema), after you are exposed to an allergen. Seborrheic dermatitis (also known as seborrheic eczema) can cause scaly patches and red skin on the scalp. These are also not contagious conditions.

Other Skin Conditions

The symptoms of atopic dermatitis can sometimes be mistaken for medical conditions that are due to infections. For example, some of the following might lead to some similar symptoms as eczema:

Because of this association in people’s minds, it is not surprising that some people might mistakenly assume that you have an infectious condition.

Eczema can also be confused with other skin conditions that are not contagious. Like atopic dermatitis, these conditions are not caused by an infection. For example, psoriasis is an inflammatory skin condition that also cannot be passed from person to person. Another common example is the skin condition pityriasis alba. Some people also have specific cancers or genetic disorders that can cause some similar skin symptoms.

Secondary Infectious in Eczema

People with eczema do sometimes develop infectious complications, some of which might be contagious. Eczema leaves the skin susceptible to developing infections in and around the affected areas. For example, people with eczema are somewhat more likely that people without eczema to develop an infection from Staphylococcus aureus bacteria.

However, most of the time this isn’t a concern. If your skin symptoms aren’t out of the ordinary, you can usually assume that no secondary infection is present.

If your skin is hot, pus-filled, and painful, that might be a sign that you have a secondary infection that needs medical attention. If you have worries about that, you should take precautions to use basic hygiene and keep anyone from touching the area. You’ll need to see a health professional to evaluate what is going on.

Stigma and Misunderstanding

Unfortunately, you may meet people who don’t understand that eczema isn’t contagious. Some people with skin disorders like eczema experience stigmatization from the disease. They may feel that it is a disadvantage at work or in their professional life. People may associate it with poor hygiene or poor health habits, even though these are not causes of eczema.

Remember that that is their uninformed perspective and doesn’t have anything to do with reality. Though there are various environmental causes that can trigger symptoms in susceptible people, none of those have to do with hygiene or personal care. People from all walks of life can get eczema, an inflammatory disorder with genetic and environmental components. In no way is it your fault.

You can work with your healthcare provider to get your disease treated and under control. But it still isn’t your fault if you are having a disease flare. Don’t let anyone make you feel bad about yourself because of your medical condition.

Coping Tips

For many people, the psychological aspects of eczema are one of the most difficult parts of dealing with the disease. Sometimes you can start to feel like people are noticing it and judging it more than they actually are. Some people even begin to isolate themselves and become depressed and anxious because of their disease.

If you are feeling very self-conscious about your skin symptoms, talk to your health care provider. There may be other treatment options that you can explore.

One way to deal with these feelings is by educating yourself and others about the true nature of eczema. That way, you can learn to answer others’ questions with confidence and without defensiveness. If it increases your sense of empowerment, you might even volunteer the information yourself. By talking it through with people, you may address any concerns they have.

It may also help you build up a support network of people who understand your own frustrations with the condition. 

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