Atopic eczema - Complications 

Complications of atopic eczema 

If your eczema is infected with the herpes simplex virus, it can develop into a serious condition called eczema herpeticum 

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Advice on allergies such as eczema and food allergy, and what treatments are available on the NHS

Complications of atopic eczema can be physical and psychological, particularly in children.

Infection

As atopic eczema can cause your skin to become dry and cracked, there is an increased risk of skin infection. The risk is higher if you scratch your eczema and you do not use treatments correctly.

Bacterial infections can cause severe symptoms. The most common type of bacteria that infects atopic eczema is Staphylococcus aureus. A Staphylococcus aureus infection can cause: 

  • redness
  • fluid that oozes out of the cracked skin and crusting where the fluid dries
  • a high temperature and a feeling of being unwell

Antibiotics will be needed to treat a Staph A infection (see How atopic eczema is treated).

Eczema herpeticum

It is possible for eczema to become infected with the herpes simplex virus, which normally causes cold sores. This can develop into a serious condition called eczema herpeticum. Symptoms of eczema herpeticum include:

  • areas of painful eczema that quickly get worse 
  • groups of fluid-filled blisters that break open and leave open sores on the skin 
  • a high temperature and generally feeling unwell, in some cases

Contact your GP immediately if you think you or your child may have eczema herpeticum. If you cannot contact your GP, call NHS 111 or go to your nearest hospital.

Psychological effects

As well as affecting you physically, atopic eczema may also affect you psychologically.

Preschool children with atopic eczema are more likely to have behavioural problems than children who do not have the condition. They are also more likely to be more dependent on their parents compared with children who do not have the condition.

Bullying

School children may experience teasing or bullying if they have atopic eczema. Any kind of bullying can be traumatic and difficult for a child to deal with. Your child may become quiet and withdrawn. Explain the situation to your child's teacher and encourage your child to tell you how they are feeling.

The National Eczema Society provides information about regional support groups, where you may be able to meet other people living with atopic eczema.

You can also read more information about bullying.

Sleep disturbance

Research suggests sleep-related problems are common among young children with eczema.

A lack of sleep may affect your child's mood and behaviour. It may also make it more difficult for them to concentrate at school, which may lead to them falling behind with their work. 

Again, it is important to let your child's teacher know about their condition so it can be taken into consideration.

During an eczema flare-up, your child may need time off from school. This may also affect their ability to keep up with their studies.

Self-confidence

Atopic eczema can affect the self-confidence of both adults and children. Children may find it particularly difficult to deal with their condition, which may lead to them having a poor self-image.

If your child is severely lacking in confidence, it may affect their ability to develop social skills. Support and encouragement will help boost your child's self-confidence and give them a more positive attitude about their appearance.

Speak to your GP if you are concerned your child's eczema is severely affecting their confidence.

Page last reviewed: 21/11/2012

Next review due: 21/11/2014

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