Does Eczema Spread If You Scratch It?

Have you ever wondered if scratching eczema can make it worse? Well, in this article, we will address the common question of whether eczema spreads if you give it a good scratch. Eczema can be a frustrating condition, but understanding how it behaves can help us manage its symptoms more effectively. So, let’s explore the relationship between scratching and the spread of eczema!

Understanding Eczema

What is eczema?

Eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis, is a common skin condition that affects millions of people worldwide. It is characterized by inflamed, itchy, and irritated skin. Eczema can vary in severity and may appear as red, dry patches or as small, fluid-filled blisters. This chronic condition can be distressing and can significantly impact one’s quality of life.

Causes of eczema

The exact cause of eczema is still unknown, but it is believed to be a combination of genetic and environmental factors. People with a family history of eczema, asthma, or allergies are more prone to developing the condition. Additionally, certain triggers such as harsh soaps, allergens, irritants, stress, and climate changes can exacerbate eczema symptoms.

Types of eczema

There are several types of eczema, each with its own unique characteristics:

  1. Atopic dermatitis: This is the most common form of eczema and often begins in infancy or childhood. It causes dry, itchy skin that can become inflamed and irritated.

  2. Contact dermatitis: This type of eczema is triggered by contact with certain substances, such as metals, fragrances, or chemicals. It typically results in localized redness, itching, and swelling.

  3. Nummular eczema: This type of eczema appears as round, coin-shaped patches on the skin. It is often triggered by dry skin, irritants, or allergies.

  4. Dyshidrotic eczema: This type of eczema primarily affects the hands and feet, causing small, itchy blisters. In severe cases, these blisters can become painful and lead to cracked skin.

  5. Seborrheic dermatitis: This form of eczema typically affects the scalp and face, resulting in red, scaly patches. It is commonly known as dandruff or cradle cap in infants.

The Relationship Between Scratching and Eczema

Effects of scratching on eczema

While scratching may provide temporary relief from itching, it can have detrimental effects on eczema-prone skin. Scratching can break the skin’s protective barrier, leading to further inflammation, infection, and an increased risk of scarring. It can also intensify the itch-scratch cycle, making eczema symptoms worse in the long run.

Why scratching feels good

Scratching provides a momentary sensation of relief because it distracts the brain from the itch. When you scratch, it activates nerve fibers that transmit the sensation of scratching instead of the itching sensation. However, this relief is short-lived and can lead to even more itching and discomfort afterward.

Complications of scratching

Frequent scratching can lead to several complications for individuals with eczema. These complications include:

  1. Infections: Scratching can introduce bacteria into the broken skin, leading to infections such as impetigo or cellulitis.

  2. Lichenification: This refers to thickened, leathery skin that develops as a result of chronic scratching. It can make the skin more prone to further irritation and itching.

  3. Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation: Intense scratching can lead to darkening of the skin in the affected areas, which can persist even after the eczema has resolved.

Does Eczema Spread When You Scratch It?

The misconception of spreading

There is a common misconception that eczema can spread from one area of the body to another or from person to person through scratching. However, this is not entirely accurate. Eczema itself is not contagious, and scratching does not cause the condition to spread.

Reasons why it may appear to spread

Although eczema does not spread through scratching, it may appear to spread due to the following reasons:

  1. Koebner phenomenon: The Koebner phenomenon refers to the development of skin lesions in areas of trauma or irritation. When you scratch or excessively rub an area of eczema-prone skin, new patches of eczema may develop in that area.

  2. Secondary infections: Scratching can lead to skin infections, which may cause the appearance of spreading. Infections can cause the eczema to worsen or affect nearby areas of the skin.

Factors determining the spread

The spread of eczema is influenced by various factors, including:

  1. Skin barrier function: Individuals with compromised skin barrier function, common in eczema patients, are more susceptible to the spread of eczema. A weakened skin barrier makes it easier for irritants and allergens to penetrate the skin, leading to new areas of outbreak.

  2. Hygiene practices: Poor hygiene, such as infrequent hand washing, can contribute to the spread of bacteria and subsequent infection. Maintaining good hygiene practices can help minimize the risk of infection.

  3. Disease progression: The severity and stage of eczema can also impact its spread. If left unmanaged, eczema can worsen and affect larger areas of the body over time.

Managing Eczema and Minimizing Scratching

Gentle skin care routines

Implementing a gentle and consistent skin care routine is crucial for managing eczema. Opt for mild, fragrance-free cleansers and avoid hot water, which can strip the skin of its natural oils. Pat the skin dry gently after washing, avoiding excessive rubbing.

Moisturizing regularly

Keeping the skin well-hydrated is essential in managing eczema and reducing itchiness. Apply a fragrance-free moisturizer immediately after bathing and throughout the day to lock in moisture. Moisturizers should be thick and emollient to provide a protective barrier for the skin.

Avoiding triggers

Identifying and avoiding triggers can help minimize eczema flare-ups. Common triggers include certain fabrics (such as wool or nylon), certain foods (such as dairy or eggs), environmental allergens (such as dust mites or pollen), and irritants (such as harsh detergents or soaps). Avoidance of these triggers can help reduce itching and the risk of further spread.

Using anti-itch treatments

There are various over-the-counter anti-itch treatments available, such as hydrocortisone creams or ointments. These topical formulations can help alleviate itching and reduce inflammation. However, it is important to consult a healthcare professional before using these treatments, especially for long-term or severe cases of eczema.

Medical interventions

In more severe cases of eczema, medical interventions may be necessary. These can include prescription-strength corticosteroids or immunomodulating medications. A dermatologist or healthcare provider can guide you in determining the most appropriate course of treatment based on your specific needs and the severity of your eczema.

Preventing the Spread of Eczema

Cleaning and caring for the skin

Maintaining good skin hygiene is vital in preventing the spread of eczema. Regularly wash the affected areas with mild cleansers and lukewarm water. Avoid scrubbing or rubbing vigorously, as this can further irritate the skin. After cleansing, gently pat the skin dry and apply moisturizer to prevent dryness and itching.

Managing open sores and infections

If eczema leads to open sores or develops signs of infection, it is essential to seek medical attention. Open sores can be an entry point for bacteria, increasing the risk of spreading. A healthcare professional can provide appropriate treatment, such as topical or oral antibiotics, to address any infections and prevent further complications.

Protecting the skin barrier

Maintaining a healthy skin barrier is crucial in minimizing the spread of eczema. Use non-irritating moisturizers regularly to keep the skin hydrated and prevent it from becoming dry and cracked. Additionally, wearing soft, breathable fabrics and avoiding prolonged exposure to hot water or harsh chemicals can help protect the skin barrier.

Avoiding close contact

While eczema itself is not contagious, coming into close contact with individuals who have open sores or infections may increase the risk of spreading infections. It is important to avoid direct contact with affected areas and practice good hand hygiene to reduce the risk of spreading bacteria or viruses.

Addressing Scratching Habits

Recognizing triggers

Identifying and understanding the triggers that lead to scratching can help individuals with eczema address their scratching habits. Common triggers can include stress, anxiety, boredom, or specific environmental factors. By recognizing these triggers, individuals can develop strategies to avoid or better cope with them.

Implementing distraction techniques

Finding alternative activities or distractions can help divert attention away from the urge to scratch. Engaging in hobbies, exercises, or other enjoyable activities can occupy the mind and provide a sense of relief without damaging the skin. Keeping hands occupied with stress balls or fidget toys can also redirect the urge to scratch.

Seeking emotional support

Living with eczema can be emotionally challenging, and seeking support from friends, family, or a support group can make a significant difference. Talking about your experiences, frustrations, and concerns with others who understand can provide emotional support and help alleviate stress, which can contribute to scratching.

Habit reversal techniques

Habit reversal techniques, such as behavioral therapy, can be beneficial in addressing scratching habits. These techniques involve recognizing the urge to scratch, interrupting the behavior, and replacing it with a more constructive action, such as deep breathing exercises or applying a cold compress to the itchy area.

What to Do If Eczema Does Spread

Consulting a dermatologist

If you notice that your eczema is spreading or becoming more severe, it is important to consult a dermatologist. A dermatologist can assess your condition, determine the cause of the spread, and recommend appropriate treatment options to manage and alleviate your symptoms.

Assessing the severity

The severity of the spread and the presence of any complications, such as infections or significant inflammation, will influence the treatment approach. A dermatologist will evaluate the extent of the spread, the duration of the symptoms, and any associated risk factors to develop an individualized treatment plan.

Adjusting treatment plans

If your eczema spreads despite following a treatment plan, your dermatologist may need to adjust your current treatment approach. This may involve prescribing additional medications, increasing the potency of topical treatments, or considering alternative treatment options to effectively manage the spread and alleviate symptoms.

The Importance of Early Intervention

Recognizing signs of spreading

Early intervention is crucial in preventing the spread of eczema and minimizing its impact. It is important to be vigilant and recognize the signs of spreading, such as the appearance of new patches, worsening itching, or the spread to previously unaffected areas. Prompt recognition allows for timely treatment, reducing the risk of complications.

Preventing complications

By addressing eczema early on, you can reduce the likelihood of complications such as infections, scarring, or chronic skin thickening. Prompt treatment and proper management can help control symptoms, minimize discomfort, and improve overall skin health.

Promoting healing

Early intervention not only helps prevent further spread, but it also promotes healing. With appropriate treatment and management, the skin can heal more effectively, reducing the duration and severity of eczema flare-ups. Early intervention provides the opportunity for better long-term control of the condition.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can scratching lead to infection?

Yes, scratching can potentially lead to skin infections. When the skin’s protective barrier is broken due to scratching, it becomes more susceptible to bacteria, which can cause infections. It is important to practice proper hygiene and seek medical attention if you suspect an infection.

Does eczema spread through touch?

No, eczema itself is not contagious and does not spread through touch. However, certain infections associated with eczema, such as impetigo, can be contagious. It is important to maintain proper hygiene and avoid close contact with individuals who have open sores or infections.

Is it possible to stop the spread of eczema?

While eczema may appear to spread, it does not actually spread from one area to another or from person to person. However, early intervention, proper treatment, and effective management can help control the symptoms, minimize the risk of complications, and prevent the worsening of eczema.


Understanding eczema and its relationship with scratching is essential for effective management and prevention of spread. While scratching can provide temporary relief, it can exacerbate symptoms and lead to complications. By implementing gentle skin care routines, avoiding triggers, seeking medical interventions when necessary, and addressing scratching habits, individuals with eczema can better manage their condition. Remember to seek medical advice from a dermatologist for personalized treatment plans and to prevent the spread of infections. With early intervention and proper care, individuals can achieve improved skin health and overall well-being despite living with eczema.