Get the tools and support you need to best manage your eczema

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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 why it’s important to rid your home of common allergens like dust mites, mold and pet dander
  • Understand what foods may or may not be a trigger for your eczema

Understanding eczema-related conditions

When two chronic diseases or illnesses exist in your body at the same time, they are called “comorbid” or “comorbid conditions.”

People with eczema, especially those with atopic dermatitis, have several known comorbid conditions. The following are some of the most common comorbidities related to eczema.


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.

Symptoms of asthma include:

  • Coughing
  • Wheezing
  • Tight chest
  • Shortness of breath

Some people with asthma only experience it from time to time, while many require constant treatment in order to prevent flares.

Asthma is a comorbid condition of atopic dermatitis.

Allergic rhinitis

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 suffer from 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

Hay fever is a comorbid condition of atopic dermatitis.

Food Allergies

According to researchers, up to 15% of children ages three to 18 months diagnosed 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. Science suggests that food allergies are not a trigger for atopic dermatitis.

Seborrheic Dermatitis

Seborrheic dermatitis is a common skin condition. Babies tend to develop it on their scalp, which is sometimes referred to as “cradle cap.” Older children and adults can also develop seborrheic dermatitis on the scalp. This resembles dandruff, but tends to be more itchy and inflamed. Seborrheic dermatitis can also affect the face and upper chest.

Symptoms of seborrheic dermatitis include:

  • Redness (erythema)
  • Itching
  • Dry, flaky skin
  • Yellow or whitish flakes that are oily

Staph infections

If you have some form of eczema, 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.

Staph infections affect people with eczema, including those with atopic dermatitis. 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 (also known as “boils”) are caused by both bacteria and fungi, but most commonly by staph. These boils start in the hair follicle, where it can become infected. This 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.

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

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

Boils like this one can be painful, and very large.

An example of scattered boils.


Impetigo is also 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 more painful and red.

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

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

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

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


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 may develop a fever and elevated white blood cell count and they 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.

Redness typical in the early stages of cellulitis.
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Severe redness and swelling caused by cellulitis, which also makes the skin is very warm to the touch.

Other common features in cellulitis are redness, warmth, and swelling of the infected skin.


People with atopic dermatitis may have greater risk of depression and anxiety. Much is unknown about the relationship between these conditions. Researchers continue to study the connection between atopic dermatitis and depression.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, if you have experienced some of these symptoms for two weeks or longer, you may have depression and should consult a doctor:

  • 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 good to be aware that atopic dermatitis and depression may be connected so that you can talk to your doctor right away if you experience symptoms of depression.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

Studies show that people with atopic dermatitis may have a greater risk of developing attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Symptoms of ADHD include:

  • Difficulty staying focused, wandering off task
  • Lack of organization skills
  • Hyperactivity
  • Making hasty decisions that could be harmful

If you or your child are displaying these symptoms, call your doctor.

Other related conditions

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