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Conditions Related to Eczema

When two chronic diseases or illnesses exist in your body at the same time, they are called “comorbid” or “comorbid conditions.” People with eczema, in particular atopic dermatitis, have several known comorbid conditions such as infections and depression.

Atopic dermatitis is part of a group of allergic conditions. In fact, “atopic” means allergy. These include, asthma, hay fever and food allergies. If a person has one of these conditions, the likelihood of developing another atopic condition is increased. Contact dermatitis is also considered atopic, though its connection to asthma and hay fever is unknown.

The following are common comorbid conditions related to eczema.

Looks can be deceiving

Red, painful skin with raised bumps may actually be a sign of staph infection

  • Explore what other medical conditions like allergies and bacterial infections are linked to eczema
  • Get the facts about the “atopic triad” — asthma, eczema and hay fever — and what they have in common
  • Find out what common eczema triggers are, from allergens to weather
  • Learn about the connection between eczema and mental health

Asthma and atopic dermatitis

Asthma is an allergic condition which causes a person’s airways to become inflamed, swollen and narrow. This narrowing makes it difficult to breathe, leading to tightness in the chest, coughing and wheezing. Asthma commonly first appears in childhood and can continue throughout your life.

Man with an asthma inhaler

Twenty percent of adults with atopic dermatitis also have asthma

Symptoms of asthma include:

  • Coughing
  • Wheezing
  • Tight chest
  • Shortness of breath

Some people with asthma only experience it from time to time, while others need ongoing treatment in order to keep it under control.

More than 20 percent of adults with atopic dermatitis have allergic asthma.

Allergic rhinitis and atopic dermatitis

Women with hay fever

People with atopic dermatitis also may have hay fever

Sometimes also called “hay fever,” allergic rhinitis is inflammation in the nose and sinuses, caused by allergens like pollen, dust mites and pet dander.

Many people with atopic dermatitis have seasonal hay fever, depending on what types of pollen they’re allergic to and what time of year those pollens are most prevalent.

Symptoms for hay fever usually include:

  • An itchy nose, mouth, eyes or skin
  • A runny nose and/or stuffy nose
  • Sneezing
  • Watery eyes
  • Sore throat

Food allergies and eczema

According to researchers, up to 15% of children ages three to 18 months with atopic dermatitis, have an allergy to one or more types of food. The most common food allergies in children are milk, eggs, peanuts, wheat and soy.

Symptoms of food allergy include:

  • Itchy mouth and swelling of the lips
  • Vomiting, diarrhea, painful stomach cramps
  • Hives, rash or reddening of the skin
  • Blood pressure drop

Food allergy symptoms appear within the first 30 minutes of eating or breathing in the food allergen.

Food allergies are a comorbid condition of atopic dermatitis. Research suggests that food allergies are not a trigger for atopic dermatitis.

Infections and eczema

Due to problems with the skin barrier and an increase of bacteria on the skin, people with eczema are prone to skin infections from both bacteria and viruses, especially staph and herpes.

Symptoms of a skin infection include redness, skin that is warm/hot to the touch, pus-filled bumps (pustules), and cold sores or fever blisters. Consult your provider if you suspect you have a skin infection.

Eczema herpeticum

Eczema herpeticum affects people with atopic dermatitis and other inflammatory skin diseases. The eczema herpeticum infection can be very serious, especially when it spreads over wide areas of skin.

Learn more about eczema herpticum causes, symptoms and treatment.

Staph infections

If you have some form of eczema, especially atopic dermatitis, staphylococcus aureus (also called “staph”) is by far the most common bacteria to cause an infection.

About 25% of the population has “colonized” (when bacteria are present, but not causing an infection) staph bacteria in their nose. However, more than 90% of patients with AD have “colonized” staph on their skin or in their nose.

Some of the most common eczema-related staph infections are called:

  • Furuncles (“boils”)
  • Impetigo
  • Cellulitis

If you think that you or your child has a staph infection, call your doctor immediately.

Furuncles

Furuncles (also known as “boils”) are caused by both bacteria and fungi. Staph is the most common bacteria that causes boils. These boils start in the hair follicle, where it can become infected.

A staph infection with furuncle or boil

Staph infections can cause furuncles (boils) on the neck. Furuncles are usually red, warm and tender to the touch.

The boils can be on any area of your body — not just your head. They are most commonly located on the face and neck, but you can also get boils on your thighs and buttocks.

Boils tend to be very red, raised bumps on the skin, which can break open and “weep” fluid.

Large boil on a child with eczema

Boils like this one can be painful and large

Impetigo

Impetigo is a very common form of staph infection and usually develops with eczema-affected skin that’s open and “weepy.” If you have impetigo, honey-colored crusts may form on the open areas of your skin. Sometimes these also become painful and red.

This kind of staph infection is very contagious, but also easily treated.

Man with impetigo

Staph can cause impetigo. The honey-colored crusts in this man’s beard area are a common symptom of this infection

Impetigo on the arm

A lesion with a varnish-like crust, typical of impetigo

Impetigo on an adult arm

Thick, scaly crusts and erosions on the surface of the skin, also typical of impetigo

Cellulitis

Cellulitis is a deep infection in the skin and is usually very painful and tender to the touch. In the most severe cases, people with cellulitis develop a fever and elevated white blood cell count and may need to be hospitalized.

Other symptoms of cellulitis include a rapidly spreading rash, dimpled skin, blisters and fever. If you think you or your child may have cellulitis, call your doctor immediately.

Early stage cellulitis on the arm

Redness typical in the early stages of cellulitis

 

Cellulitis on a child's face

In addition to redness, other cellulitis symptoms include swollen skin that is warm or hot to the touch

Eczema and mental health

Research suggests that people with eczema, particularly atopic dermatitis, have higher rates of depression and anxiety. Much is unknown about the relationship between these conditions.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, if a person has experienced some of these symptoms for two weeks or longer, they may have depression and should consult a health care provider:

  • Feeling sad, empty and/or anxious
  • Feeling hopeless
  • Lost of interest in hobbies or other
    activities
  • Decreased energy, feeling tired
    more often
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Restlessness, unable to sit still
  • Problems sleeping
  • Weight change
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

It’s important to be aware that atopic dermatitis and depression may be connected. Talk to a health care provider or mental health specialist if you are experiencing symptoms of depression.

Mood changes, including anxiety and depression, are side effects of the asthma medication montelukast. If you are taking montelukast and are experiencing symptoms of depression/anxiety, contact your health care provider right away.

 

Other related conditions

Research shows that adults with atopic dermatitis may have a higher risk of developing heart disease, high blood pressure and stroke.