Eczema is a group of skin conditions that 31 million people in the United States live with, according to the National Eczema Association. Patches of dry, leathery, or blistered-covered skin anywhere on your body are eczema’s deal — and it’s not pleasant.
Many types of eczema can form around your eyes. You’ll sometimes hear them referred to as eyelid dermatitis, although eyelids aren’t your only eye-adjacent face spaces at risk.
We break down what types of eczema can affect your eyelids and the types of treatments that may work for you.
Super flaky eyelids? We can help you work out whether it’s eczema or not.
Eczema is defined as dry, red or discolored, itchy, and scaly skin. It can occur around your eyes.
When discussing eczema around your eyes, there are three noteworthy types of eczema:
- atopic eczema
- seborrhoeic dermatitis
- contact eczema
Doctors sometimes refer to all three as eyelid dermatitis (when they pop up on your eyelids, obvs).
This is the most common eczema around. According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, around 16.5 million of 31 million folks with eczema in the United States have the atopic variety, and around 20 percent of kids are thought to have it, according to a 2010 research review. So yeah, super common.
Your flimsy, sensitive eyelid skin is prone to atopic eczema. It can appear anywhere though, and atopic eczema can also develop on your cheeks, nose, eyebrows, and whatever that bit of your face is called where crow’s feet develop.
Seborrhoeic dermatitis mainly happens on your scalp. You know the cradle cap that babies get? That’s seborrhoeic dermatitis. It presents as dry flaky skin that appears in patches.
As scalp-associated as it is, seborrhoeic dermatitis around your eyes isn’t uncommon. Patches of seborrhoeic dermatitis or seborrhoeic eczema can appear anywhere around your eyes but are most common where your eyelids and eyes meet.
Also called contact dermatitis, this is an irritation caused by touching something that your skin takes a severe disliking to. There are two types.
Irritant contact eczema is from substances that negatively affect your skin no matter who you are. Poisonous plants and irritant chemicals are the most common catalysts.
Allergic contact eczema is when a flare-up happens because of something that your skin shouldn’t have an issue with. The clue is in the name, but allergic contact eczema is a fancier medical term for your common-or-garden allergic skin reaction.
It can occur around your eyes because, as we all know, it’s embarrassingly easy to get stuff in your eyes. Makeup and swimming pool chlorine are common reasons for contact eczema in your eye region. So is jizz.
Each case of eczema is different. That being said, there are common symptoms that can appear across every type with varying degrees of severity.
Here’s the eczema stuff that can happen around your eyes:
- Your skin can become dry and hella itchy.
- Skin can also become red or discolored, and swollen.
- It can also appear thick or leathery.
- Your eyeballs may also get dry and sting a bit.
- Bumps might rise in the affected area.
- You may also get blisters.
- Fluid can leak out.
- Flakes of dry skin can fall off (this is particularly true of seborrhoeic dermatitis).
Can eczema cause blindness?
Eczema can’t directly cause blindness. However, having eczema around your eyes increases your risk of eye conditions which can lead to blindness.
This risk increases the longer your eye eczema is left untreated. If you’re experiencing an eczema flare-up around your eyes and start having vision problems you should consult your doctor ASAP.
Eczema isn’t the only condition that can make your skin around your eyes red or discolored, swollen, and really sore.
There are a few other common ailments that present in a similar way (and in most cases develop as a result of eye eczema-based complications). Some of these are:
- Blepharitis. Blepharitis is a common type of eye inflammation. It’s caused by oil glands around your eyelids getting full of gunk and swelling up. A similar condition is meibomianitis, which starts for the same reasons but makes your eyelids thick and crusty.
- Conjunctivitis. Conjunctivitis is another inflammatory eye condition that can look a lot like eczema. Allergic conjunctivitis is a common variety of this (caused by pollen and other allergens, as the name would suggest). It’s also commonly referred to as pink eye.
- Keratitis. Keratitis is science-speak for an inflamed cornea. This can lead to your eyes feeling pained and uncomfortable, and they’ll water a lot.
There’s not a definitive reason that some people develop eczema. Even with contact eczema, science hasn’t discovered why some people have allergic reactions to the stuff others can touch no-problemo.
You can develop any kind of eczema due to a mix of genetic and environmental factors. There are strong hereditary links, stress can play a big part, and your immune system is also a catalyst for many eczema types.
There’s no way to test if you’re at a high risk of developing eczema (aside from others in your family experiencing it). Avoiding it may be impossible for some people. There are, however, known triggers that folks at risk of eczema are advised to steer clear of where they can.
What can trigger eczema around your eyes?
Here are some common eczema triggers to avoid if you’ve got sensitive skin around your peepers:
Diagnosing eczema anywhere is actually super easy. They don’t need to do lab tests or anything.
Your doctor will ask you a bunch of questions if you’ve had eczema in other places or have had any irritants near your eyes.
Once they ask some questions, they’ll tell you if it’s eczema or not. The only extra step is that your doctor may want to do a patch test, which exposes an area of skin to allergens, to check for a reaction.
There are plenty of over-the-counter (OTC) and off-the-shelf treatments for eczema available at pharmacies.
If you develop eczema due to an allergic reaction, antihistamines can help you manage the itching and swelling.
Corticosteroids can also treat eczema itching, but using them around your eyes is risky (it can lead to glaucoma, which is really serious and 100 percent worse for your eyes than eczema).
Consult your doctor before trying any OTC treatment (especially if you’re already on other medications or undergoing treatment for another condition).
Prescription treatments for eczema near your eyes
If home remedies and OTC medication don’t do the job, your doctor can prescribe more intensive treatment. Severe and recurring eczema will probably require some kind of prescription medication.
Your eyes are pretty sensitive. This may limit the treatments your doc can offer because they want to protect your eyes’ condition from becoming more severe. Prescription eczema treatments that are safe to use near your eyes include:
- topical and oral corticosteroids
- topical calcineurin inhibitors
- UV light therapy
Eczema around your eyes isn’t always serious, but it can become serious without treatment. It can also lead to serious conditions, some of which can make you experience blindness.
Eye-based eczema also presents more of a risk than some other eczemas simply because of how sensitive your eyes are.
As eyes are prone to infections and protected only by a thin membrane, eczema near your eyes is more likely to cause complications than an eczema patch on your belly or butt cheek.
There’s no way to prevent eczema flare-ups completely. You can significantly reduce the risks of them developing though.
Most of the home remedies and treatments to treat flare-ups also prevent them. Steps to keep eczema flare-ups at bay include:
- avoiding triggers and irritants
- keeping humidity and room temperature moderate
- regularly using of fragrance-free moisturizer
- managing your stress levels
The three main types of eczema that mess with your eyes are atopic eczema, contact eczema, and seborrheic dermatitis. There’s no single cause: Eczema usually develops due to a mix of genetic and environmental factors.
You can’t prevent eczema flare-ups around your eyes, but you can minimize the risk by avoiding known triggers.
There’s plenty of home remedies that can treat eczema around your eyes (and almost prevent it from happening again). If these don’t work there are plenty of OTC and prescription treatments as next steps.
Eczema near your eyes isn’t normally serious but can be without treatment — so get it sorted straight away.