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Complications of Severe Eczema

Medically Reviewed by Stephanie S. Gardner, MD on March 06, 2022

Severe eczema is more than skin deep. Complications can significantly impact your day-to-day life, both physically and mentally. Here’s a look at what the condition can cause.

Infections

While it may ease an itch, scratching all the time can break open your skin. This could lead to infection. Types include:

Herpes (eczema herpeticum). The herpes simplex 1 virus typically causes this infection. It triggers fluid-filled blisters on your face, neck, and other parts of the body. You might also have a fever, chills, and swollen lymph glands. It may take as long as 2 weeks for symptoms to show up after you come into contact with the herpes simplex virus.

Staph. Staph infections, caused by Staphylococcus aureus bacteria, happen more often in people with eczema. Experts estimate the number could be anywhere between 60% and 90%. Common staph infections include:

  • Boils (furuncles), an infection that begins in the hair follicle
  • Impetigo, an infection that’s easily passed from one person to another and forms crusts on open skin
  • Cellulitis, a painful infection deep inside the skin

Research suggests these infections have the potential to shorten your life. People who are hospitalized for eczema-related infections and flares tend to live about 8 years less than those without the condition.

Call your doctor right away if you think you have a skin infection. Treatments include antivirals and antibiotics.

Food Allergies

Studies show the more severe your eczema, the higher your odds of having a food allergy. In some cases, experts think food allergies may trigger the condition. People with eczema who also have food allergies are typically sensitive to:

  • Milk
  • Eggs
  • Peanuts
  • Wheat
  • Soy

Symptoms include:

  • Mouth swelling and itching
  • Hives
  • Stomach troubles
  • A drop in blood pressure within 30 minutes of eating a problem food or breathing it in

Children with severe eczema and food allergies may grow out of it as they age, but it’s possible for the condition to last into adulthood.

Asthma, Allergies, and Hay Fever

These conditions tend to be closely connected with eczema. Your risk of eczema is higher if you or someone in your family has one or more of these conditions. More than half of kids with eczema will get these conditions by age 13, and they can stick around for the rest of their lives.

With asthma, you may have trouble breathing sometimes or need regular treatment for frequent asthma attacks. Also called allergic rhinitis, hay fever is when pollen, dust mites, pet dander, and other allergens inflame your nose and sinuses. The condition causes:

  • Itching and swelling of the nose, mouth, eyes, and skin
  • A stuffy or runny nose
  • Sneezing
  • Watery eyes
  • Sore throat

Sleep Problems

It’s hard to get a good night’s sleep when your skin is dry, itchy, and inflamed. Studies of people living with eczema found that trouble sleeping is one of the most common symptoms. You may have problems both falling and staying asleep. On average, people with eczema say their condition disrupts their sleep 4 nights a week.

A lack of sleep at night leaves you feeling tired the next day and impacts your mood, activity levels, and mental health. An antihistamine can help ease itchy skin at night. But be sure to only use non-drowsy antihistamines during the day.

Psychological Effects

Severe eczema can impact your mental well-being and overall quality of life. It can lead to embarrassment and isolation. Children may be bullied or teased. Research suggests people with the condition have higher rates of:

  • Depression
  • Thoughts of suicide
  • Anxiety

Although you may be more likely to have these problems, many people with eczema go undiagnosed. Call your doctor if you have any of these symptoms.

Eye Conditions

Eczema can affect the sensitive skin around your eyes. Adults with severe eczema have a higher chance of getting eye conditions such as:

  • Conjunctivitis (pinkeye), an infection resulting from allergens, irritants, bacteria, and viruses
  • Keratitis, or inflammation of the cornea caused by the herpes simplex virus and other things
  • Keratoconus, or thinning and bulging of the cornea

These conditions can cause serious problems, including poor vision and vision loss, if left untreated.

Economic Impact

Missed days from work and health care costs related to eczema can take a toll on your finances. Adults with severe eczema are more likely to be unemployed than those with mild disease. And people with the condition, whether mild or severe, miss more days of work than those without.

Other financial concerns for those living with may eczema include:

  • Doctor visits
  • Emergency care
  • Hospital stays
  • Out-of-pocket costs, such as prescriptions

Many people with the condition have trouble paying for their eczema prescriptions, so they put off getting care because of the cost.

Other Long-Term Health Problems

Researchers have found that people with severe eczema may be more likely to have other long-term illnesses, including:

Experts aren’t sure what the connection is between eczema and these conditions. But you and your doctor can keep an eye out if you know you’re at risk.

Show Sources

SOURCES:

The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology: “Atopic eczema in adulthood and mortality: UK population–based cohort study, 1998-2016.”

Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology: “Comorbidities and the impact of atopic dermatitis,” “Patient burden and quality of life in atopic dermatitis in US adults.”

Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology: “Patient burden of moderate to severe atopic dermatitis (AD): Insights from a phase 2b clinical trial of dupilumab in adults.”

Mayo Clinic: “Atopic dermatitis (eczema),” “Keratitis.”

National Eczema Association: “Conditions Related to Eczema,” “Eczema Stats,” “Eczema Herpeticum.”

National Institutes of Health: “Eczema (Atopic Dermatitis) Complications.”

NHS: “Complications.”

Statpearls: “Eczema.”

Johns Hopkins Medicine: “Keratoconus.”

Cleveland Clinic: “Pink Eye (Conjunctivitis).”

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