The dry, itchy rashes of eczema sometimes happen to people in the same household, and flare-ups tend to come and go with little indication of what causes them. So, it's natural to wonder: is eczema contagious? Or similarly, can eczema spread?
The answer is no. Although eczema can seem like it spreads from person to person when two family members get a rash simultaneously, you can't "catch" eczema from someone else. Instead, blame genetics: eczema and certain allergic conditions can run in families—so if one person has an adverse reaction to a new soap, for example, other relatives may too.
That said, some underlying causes of eczema flare-ups may be contagious, as are eczema-like skin conditions like ringworm or scabies. That's why it's important to learn the differences so you can protect yourself and others. Here's what you should know.
What Is Eczema?
"Eczema" is a group term for different problems that can lead to itchy patches or bumps on the skin. Often, these problems happen when the skin comes into contact with an irritant, like a detergent or cigarette smoke. People with eczema have skin that's more sensitive to irritants, causing adverse reactions, which can appear and disappear through "flare-ups" throughout their life. Eczema flare-ups can also jump from different parts of the body of the same person.
Although eczema itself is not contagious, some transmissible infections can lead to eczema flare-ups, which means those underlying problems may spread from person to person.
One example of this is a staph infection. While the infection can spread via skin contact, people with eczema are more prone to staph infections because of their preexisting skin sensitivities. Poison oak, sumac, and ivy reactions have different points of spread: while the plant oils can spread via personal items like clothing, the resulting eczema reaction isn't contagious.
In these cases, the bacteria, allergen, or even the rash itself (as with staph) may indeed be easily spread, but the underlying sensitivities that make someone more likely to have eczema from it may not.
Eczema-Like Conditions That Are Contagious
Sometimes, what looks like eczema may be something else entirely—especially if you don't have a personal or family history of eczema, asthma, or allergies.
For example, ringworm commonly gets mistaken for eczema and vice versa because the two share some symptoms, including an itchy rash. Ringworm, which isn't actually caused by a worm, is caused by a fungal infection and can pass from person to person after physical contact or sharing personal items like clothes. Although the two can look similar, ringworm tends to have a defined "worm-like" border, whereas eczema doesn't.
Scabies is another contagious infection that can appear like eczema but tends to cause raised bumps that look like pimples rather than the scaly dry rash that's common of eczema. This condition happens when tiny mites burrow into the skin, causing itchy, acne-like irritation. Unlike eczema, it spreads aggressively in crowded places.
Getting Your Skin Mysteries Solved
So, is eczema contagious? No, but many other skin infections are—which means that if you have a skin problem that worries you, you should check with a Dermatologist. They can conduct an exam to identify what's wrong and help create a treatment plan to relieve the rash.
If it's eczema that's the culprit, your provider may recommend a skin care routine that includes a gentle cleanser and moisturizer. They may also suggest that you avoid or limit your triggers, such as dust or pollen. But if some other condition is to blame, such as a contagious infection, your doctor may prescribe you medication to help treat the underlying problem.
No matter what, consult with your Dermatologist for answers. They can help you unravel the mysteries of your skin rash to give you a little more peace of mind—and hopefully, a lot less itch, too.