Complications of atopic eczema 

People with atopic eczema can sometimes develop further physical and psychological problems.

Bacterial skin infections

As atopic eczema can cause your skin to become cracked and broken, there is a risk of the skin becoming infected with bacteria. The risk is higher if you scratch your eczema or do not use your treatments correctly.

Signs of a bacterial infection can include:

  • fluid oozing from the skin
  • a yellow crust on the skin surface
  • small yellowish-white spots appearing in the eczema
  • the skin becoming swollen and sore
  • a high temperature (fever) and generally feeling unwell

Your normal symptoms may also get rapidly worse and your eczema may not respond to your regular treatments.

You should see your doctor as soon as possible if you think your or your child's skin may have become infected.

They will usually prescribe antibiotic tablets, capsules or cream to treat the infection, as well as making sure the skin inflammation that led to the infection is well controlled.

Speak to your GP if these don't help or your symptoms get worse.

Once your infection has cleared, your GP will prescribe new supplies of any creams and ointments you're using to avoid contamination. Old treatments should be disposed of.

Viral skin infections

It's also 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 small, shallow open sores on the skin
  • a high temperature and generally feeling unwell, in some cases 

Contact your doctor 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.

If you are diagnosed with eczema herpeticum, you will be given an antiviral medication called aciclovir.

Psychological effects

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

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


Schoolchildren 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 about bullying.

Problems sleeping

Sleep-related problems are common among people with eczema.

A lack of sleep may affect mood and behaviour. It may also make it more difficult to concentrate at school or work. 

If your child has problems sleeping because of their eczema, they may fall behind with their schoolwork. It might help to let their teacher know about their condition so it can be taken into consideration.

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


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. They may benefit from specialist psychological support.


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

Page last reviewed: 25/11/2014

Next review due: 25/11/2016