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Your skin is the largest organ of your body, shielding all those inside bits yet totally exposed to the environment around it. Atopic dermatitis is the scientific moniker for eczema, a condition characterized by dry, itchy, red patches of skin.
Eczema affects children and adults alike and can lead to further complications when the skin cracks, forming open wounds that can become infiltrated by harmful contaminants.
Infected eczema can make an uncomfortable situation even worse, so it’s important to know the warning signs and best courses of treatment to avoid painful itchy-scratchies.
Eczema (atopic dermatitis) is a dry, red rash that can flare up pretty much anywhere on the body, but in older children and young adults it likes the areas behind the knees and the crease between the forearm and arm (aka elbow pit).
If the skin cracks or tears from scratching, open wounds are at risk of infection by microscopic bacterial, fungal, or viral invaders.
One of the more common infections that can occur with eczema is staphylococcus. Staph is a bacteria that usually just hangs around harmlessly on the skin. However, it can get into wounds caused by scratching or cracking skin and cause problems.
A staphinfection can make an eczema flare-up worse, causing further risks and potentially life threatening complications.
Fungal infections are common in skin areas where eczema is chilling in skin folds. Thrush (candida) and ringworm (tinea) are a couple fungal infections that can accompany eczema and cause discomfort.
Herpes simplex is a viral infection that can be particularly problematic in eczema, as folks with eczema are more prone to catching the virus.
This can result in a condition called eczema herpeticum (more on that in a second), so people with eczema should steer clear of coming into contact with people who have the virus or are showing signs of cold sores.
Molluscum contagiosum is another contagious viral infection that commonly affects those with eczema. It appears as skin colored, round, painless bumps with a divot in the center that are usually a few millimeters in size.
Identifying a case of infected eczema is the first step toward relief. Common symptoms of infection are:
- yellow crusting
- pus on the skin
- Severe itching
- flu-like symptoms, such as fever or swollen glands
Infection is a complication of eczema, but infections themselves carry their own risks. It can be difficult for an eczema flare-up to heal while there’s an infection on the scene.
Along with cases of infected eczema, there may also be heightened discomfort when it comes to itching, pain, and blisters or sores on the skin. In some cases, skin infections can cause abscesses and swelling.
When exposed to the herpes simplex virus, people with eczema may be at risk of developing eczema herpeticum, a condition that characteristically has little “punched out” cookie-cutter-like yellowish erosions and tenderness in the skin, sometimes accompanied by flu-like symptoms.
This condition is very serious, so if it’s suspected then call your doctor ASAP.
One of the most serious complications that can occur as a result of infected eczema is sepsis (aka blood poisoning).
Sepsis occurs when a severe infection, such as staph, is left untreated for too long and seeps into the bloodstream. This can lead to all sorts of problems, including organ failure and even death.
Risks of serious complications are generally higher in babies and children. Younger people may also be more likely to get infections in the first place, so it’s important to monitor your little ones with eczema carefully and get medical attention as needed.
There are many treatment options for infected eczema. Knowing whether the infection is bacterial, viral, or fungal will be the eureka! factor in determining a treatment plan.
For bacterial infections, antibiotics are used. Sometimes these are in the form of topical creams or ointments, but they might also be taken orally for short courses.
Corticosteroid creams are also used in many cases to reduce the inflammation that accompanies infection and eczema.
Many people may want to avoid using topical steroid medications when their eczema is infected because steroids may exacerbate an infection. Your dermatologist will let you know how to properly use these medications for your particular infection.
Fungal infections are typically treated with antifungal topicals or oral medications.
Viral infections such as herpes simplex infections are treated with antiviral medications.
Some peeps swear by specific home remedies to treat eczema. But when it comes to infections, it’s important to review any home remedies with your healthcare provider so they can monitor your condition and skirt the risk of making things worse.
When using home remedies, keep in mind that they haven’t been widely studied and could potentially cause further irritation since everyone’s skin may react differently.
Some popular alternative home treatments for eczema are:
- Herbal remedies: such as evening primrose oil, calendula, and witch hazel
- Essential oils: such as tea tree, neem, or evening primrose
- Probiotics: used to aid stomach issues from antibiotic use
- Natural soaps: free of harsh detergents, to help soothe and moisturize the skin
Some other options that may be used to complement traditional treatments include:
- Epsom salt: used in bathing, to soothe aches and irritated skin
- Emollient wraps: to soothe and soften irritated skin
- Oatmeal baths: to calm itchy skin
To prevent infected eczema, make sure to monitor your flare-ups and take good care of your skin.
Although it may be easier said than done, avoid scratching the skin. This can cause open wounds to form, increasing the risk of infection.
Topical steroids are the first-line treatment for itchy, inflamed patches of eczema. See your dermatologist work out a proper treatment strategy.
Moisturizing can be an effective way to both soothe and protect your skin. If that’s not enough, inflammation can be managed with the use of steroid creams, topical immunomodulators, and even light therapy.
Attempting to pinpoint eczema triggers can be a really helpful way to save your future self some trouble when it comes to managing this condition.
Common triggers for eczema flare ups include:
- sweat, heat
- artificial fragrances
- irritating skin products
You should see a doctor ASAP if you suspect a case of infected eczema. They’ll check your skin to ID the type of infection and prescribe the proper course of treatment.
Your doctor may also suggest lifestyle changes to help avoid more eczema flare-ups in the future (such as avoiding common triggers). There’s no need to suffer through unnecessary pain and discomfort — get that skin checked out.