Is Eczema Contagious?

The Fear to Have Eczema

“Is eczema contagious?”  This question is likely one of the first a parent will ask when their child is diagnosed with eczema.  The simple answer to this question is “no”, however noticeable symptoms of eczema create an illusion that it can be spread.  This is particularly difficult for school age children, who are often the victim of jokes and ridicule.  At times, even adults, ignorant of the facts, behave in a way that causes a child with eczema to feel rejected. Truth is, this child could respond by saying “you’ve had eczema too!” and would literally be right!

Facts about Eczema

One of the most little known facts about eczema is that there is more than one type.  The most common form, (contact dermatitis) is one we have all experienced at one time or another.  When the skin is exposed to an irritant such as a harsh chemical, an insect bite, or poison ivy, it becomes red, swollen, itchy, and sometimes blistered.  For most people, the skin returns to normal once exposure to the irritant stops.  Contact dermatitis is clearly not serious, nor is this eczema contagious.

In chronic types of eczema, symptoms reoccur in episodes known as “flare ups”.  People with chronic eczemas react severely to a variety of irritants and sometimes to perspiration, temperature extremes and stress. Though the exact cause of these chronic eczemas remains a mystery, research points to a malfunctioning immune system.  Overreaction of the skin causes dryness, irritation and itching so severe that the eczema sufferer is helpless to avoid scratching.

The most common of these chronic eczemas (atopic dermatitis) generally begins in infancy or childhood.  It is this form that is widely referred to by the lone word “eczema”, as the terms are often used interchangeably.  Often running in families, atopic dermatitis causes the skin to become red, swollen, scaly, cracked and weepy.  Broken moist skin is a breeding ground for bacteria and if there is any threat eczema poses to others, it is from the drainage of an infected patch.  It is important to remember, however, that the exposure to any infected bodily fluids poses the same threat, and it is the bacterial source of infection that is contagious, not the eczema.  Since breakouts can occur on any part of the body, the eczema sufferer is often unable to hide it.  Children react to the sight of the chronic eczemas with words like “disgusting” and “gross”.  If parents and teachers pose the question “Is eczema contagious?” and answer with an accurate explanation, the child with eczema will less likely suffer the embarrassment often associated with the disease.

Contagious Eczema?

Just as scientists once labored to determine if eczema was contagious, they now work to find a cure. Until research leads them to a definitive cause and eventual cure, the goal of treatment is limited to prevention of flare-ups and management of symptoms.  With the right eczema treatment, flare ups can be prevented and distressful symptoms effectively managed.