Does Eczema Get Worse The More You Scratch?

Have you ever wondered if scratching your eczema could actually make it worse? This article explores the question of whether or not eczema worsens with increased scratching. Eczema is a common skin condition that can cause symptoms such as dry, itchy patches. Many people instinctively scratch these areas, but does this scratching lead to a vicious cycle of worsening symptoms? Let’s find out the truth behind eczema and scratching.

What is Eczema?


Eczema is a common skin condition characterized by inflammation and itching. It is also known as atopic dermatitis and can affect people of all ages. The exact cause of eczema is unknown, but it is believed to be a combination of genetic and environmental factors.

Types of Eczema

There are several types of eczema, each with its own unique symptoms and triggers. The most common types include atopic eczema, contact dermatitis, nummular eczema, and dyshidrotic eczema. It is important to accurately identify the type of eczema in order to develop an effective treatment plan.


While the exact cause of eczema is still unclear, there are several known factors that can contribute to its development. These factors include genetics, a compromised skin barrier, immune system dysfunction, allergens, irritants, and environmental factors such as weather and humidity. Understanding the underlying causes can help in managing and preventing flare-ups.

The Relationship Between Eczema and Scratching

Understanding the Itch-Scratch Cycle

One of the most frustrating aspects of eczema is the intense itching that accompanies it. When you have eczema, the urge to scratch can be overwhelming. However, scratching only provides temporary relief and can actually make the condition worse. The itch-scratch cycle refers to the repetitive pattern of itching and scratching, leading to further inflammation and damage to the skin.

Effect of Scratching on Eczema

Scratching can have several negative effects on eczema-prone skin. Firstly, it damages the skin barrier, making it more susceptible to irritants and infections. Additionally, scratching can worsen inflammation and trigger the release of histamines, exacerbating itching and redness. Furthermore, excessive scratching can lead to complications such as thickened skin (lichenification), open sores, pain, discomfort, and scarring.

Factors That Influence Eczema Worsening

Severity of Scratch

The severity of scratching, including the force and frequency, can greatly impact the progression of eczema. Gentle and infrequent scratching may have less detrimental effects compared to aggressive and constant scratching. It is important to be mindful of your scratching habits to minimize further damage to the skin.

Duration of Scratching

The length of time spent scratching can also contribute to the worsening of eczema. Prolonged scratching can lead to increased inflammation and damage to the skin, prolonging the healing process. Becoming aware of the duration of your scratching episodes can help in managing eczema effectively.

Skin Barrier Function

The skin’s barrier function plays a crucial role in protecting against external irritants and maintaining hydration. In individuals with eczema, the skin barrier is often compromised, allowing irritants to penetrate and trigger flare-ups. Strengthening the skin barrier through proper skincare routines and moisturization can help prevent eczema from worsening.

Underlying Skin Inflammation

Eczema is characterized by underlying skin inflammation, which contributes to itching and redness. The extent of inflammation can vary from person to person and can influence the severity and progression of eczema. It is important to identify and address the underlying inflammation to manage eczema effectively.

Allergic Reactions

Allergens can play a significant role in triggering and exacerbating eczema symptoms. Common allergens include certain foods, pollen, pet dander, and dust mites. Identifying and avoiding these triggers can help prevent allergic reactions and minimize the worsening of eczema.


Eczema-prone skin is more susceptible to infections, especially when scratched. Bacteria and viruses can enter the skin through open wounds caused by scratching, leading to skin infections. These infections can further worsen eczema symptoms and prolong the healing process. Proper wound care and avoiding scratching are important in preventing infections.

Complications Associated with Scratching Eczema

Thickened Skin (Lichenification)

Frequent and intense scratching can lead to thickened skin, a condition known as lichenification. Lichenified skin appears raised, leathery, and can become increasingly sensitive. This thickening of the skin can contribute to the chronicity of eczema and make it more challenging to manage.

Open Sores and Skin Infections

Scratching eczema-prone skin can cause open sores, which are not only painful but also increase the risk of developing skin infections. Infections can further worsen eczema symptoms and require medical intervention. It is crucial to avoid scratching to minimize the risk of open sores and infections.

Pain and Discomfort

Repeated scratching can cause pain and discomfort, making it difficult to carry out daily activities. The constant urge to scratch and the resulting damage to the skin can significantly impact the quality of life of individuals with eczema. Managing itching and avoiding scratching are key to reducing pain and discomfort.


In severe cases of eczema, the repetitive cycle of scratching can result in permanent scarring. Scarring can affect not only the physical appearance but also the emotional well-being of individuals. Preventing scratching and addressing eczema promptly can help minimize the risk of scarring.

Avoiding Scratching to Manage Eczema

Moisturize Regularly

Keeping the skin moisturized is crucial in managing eczema. Using a fragrance-free moisturizer regularly helps restore and maintain the skin’s hydration, reducing itching and preventing dryness. Applying moisturizer after bathing and throughout the day can provide relief and protect the skin barrier.

Use Cold Compresses

Applying cold compresses to itchy areas can help relieve itching and reduce inflammation. Cold temperatures can temporarily numb the skin and provide temporary relief from itching. Wrap ice packs or a clean washcloth with cold water and gently apply it to the affected areas for a few minutes at a time.

Trim and Clean Nails

Trimming your nails regularly helps reduce the risk of causing damage to eczema-prone skin when scratching. Short nails are less likely to break the skin and introduce bacteria, lowering the chance of infections. Keeping nails clean also helps in maintaining good overall hygiene.

Avoid Irritants

Identifying and avoiding irritants is an essential step in managing eczema. Common irritants include harsh soaps, fragrances, certain fabrics, and certain skincare products. Opting for gentle, hypoallergenic products and avoiding triggers can significantly reduce the likelihood of eczema flare-ups.

Explore Stress Management Techniques

Stress has been linked to worsening eczema symptoms. Finding effective stress management techniques, such as practicing mindfulness, exercising regularly, and engaging in hobbies, can help reduce stress levels and minimize the impact on eczema. Relaxation techniques such as deep breathing exercises and yoga can also be beneficial.

Utilize Therapies and Medications

Depending on the severity of eczema, therapies and medications may be prescribed by healthcare professionals. These can include topical corticosteroids, immunomodulators, and antihistamines. It is important to follow the treatment plan outlined by your healthcare provider to manage eczema effectively.

Effective Ways to Relieve Itching

Topical Creams and Ointments

Topical creams and ointments are commonly used to alleviate itching associated with eczema. These products often contain corticosteroids, which reduce inflammation and itching. Applying a thin layer of the prescribed cream or ointment to the affected areas can provide relief and help manage eczema symptoms.


Antihistamines can help reduce itching and promote better sleep by blocking the action of histamine in the body. These can be taken orally or applied topically, depending on the formulation. It is important to consult with a healthcare professional for the appropriate type and dosage of antihistamines for your specific needs.

Wet Dressings

Wet dressings involve applying a damp wrap or cloth to the affected areas to provide relief from itching. The moisture helps soothe the skin and reduce inflammation. This technique can be particularly helpful during flare-ups or when itching becomes severe. It is important to seek guidance from a healthcare professional on proper wet dressing techniques.


Phototherapy, also known as light therapy, involves exposing the affected skin to ultraviolet (UV) light under controlled conditions. This treatment can help alleviate itching and reduce inflammation. Phototherapy should always be done under medical supervision to ensure safety and effectiveness.

Seeking Professional Help


A dermatologist specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of skin conditions, including eczema. If you are experiencing persistent or severe eczema symptoms, it is recommended to consult with a dermatologist. They can provide a comprehensive assessment, recommend appropriate treatments, and offer guidance for managing eczema effectively.


An allergist can help identify and manage triggers that worsen eczema symptoms. They specialize in diagnosing and treating allergies and can conduct tests to determine specific allergens that may be exacerbating your eczema. By identifying and avoiding these triggers, you can better manage your eczema and prevent flare-ups.


The emotional impact of living with eczema can be significant. It is not uncommon for individuals with eczema to experience feelings of frustration, embarrassment, and low self-esteem. Seeking support from a psychologist or counselor who specializes in skin conditions can provide valuable coping strategies and emotional support.

Preventing Eczema Flare-ups

Identify Triggers

Identifying triggers is crucial in preventing eczema flare-ups. Monitor your environment, activities, and diet to identify factors that may worsen symptoms. Common triggers include certain fabrics, detergents, stress, certain foods, and changes in weather. By avoiding or minimizing exposure to these triggers, you can reduce the likelihood of flare-ups.

Maintain a Healthy Lifestyle

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle can help manage and prevent eczema flare-ups. This includes eating a balanced diet, staying physically active, and getting enough sleep. A healthy lifestyle can strengthen the immune system and reduce the risk of eczema exacerbations.

Protective Clothing

Wearing protective clothing, such as loose-fitting, breathable fabrics, can help minimize irritation to the skin. Avoiding rough, scratchy materials can reduce friction and prevent further damage. Additionally, wearing clothing that provides sun protection can help prevent sunburn and minimize the risk of flare-ups.

Avoid Excessive Heat or Cold

Extreme temperatures can trigger eczema flare-ups. Avoiding excessive heat, such as hot showers, and harsh cold, such as cold and dry weather, can help maintain the skin’s moisture levels and reduce the risk of flare-ups. Opt for lukewarm showers and use a humidifier during colder months to add moisture to the air.

Maintain a Regular Skincare Routine

Establishing a regular skincare routine is essential in managing and preventing eczema flare-ups. This includes gentle cleansing with mild, fragrance-free soaps or cleansers and moisturizing immediately after bathing. Regularly applying moisturizer throughout the day can help maintain the skin’s hydration and reduce itching.

Importance of Early Treatment

Prevent Further Complications

Early treatment of eczema is crucial in preventing further complications. Promptly managing eczema flare-ups can minimize the risk of infections, scarring, and thickened skin. By addressing symptoms at the earliest signs, you can reduce the likelihood of long-term complications.

Minimize Quality of Life Impact

Eczema can significantly impact an individual’s quality of life. Itching, discomfort, and appearance-related concerns can affect self-esteem and daily activities. Seeking early treatment can help manage eczema symptoms effectively, reducing their impact on your overall well-being and quality of life.

Reduce Emotional Distress

Living with chronic eczema can cause emotional distress, leading to anxiety, depression, and reduced self-confidence. Early treatment can provide relief from itching, reduce inflammation, and minimize the impact on your mental and emotional well-being. Addressing eczema early on can help alleviate the emotional burden associated with the condition.


Eczema is a common skin condition characterized by inflammation and itching. Scratching eczema-prone skin can worsen symptoms and lead to complications such as thickened skin, open sores, pain, and scarring. Managing eczema effectively involves avoiding scratching, identifying triggers, moisturizing regularly, and seeking professional help when needed. Early treatment is vital in preventing further complications, minimizing the impact on quality of life, and reducing emotional distress. By adopting preventive measures and following a comprehensive treatment plan, individuals with eczema can better manage the condition and improve their overall well-being.