Rash around eyes: Causes, symptoms, and treatment

A rash can develop around the eyes for different reasons, including dermatological conditions and infections. Examples include atopic dermatitis, psoriasis, and cellulitis.

Doctors may find it difficult to diagnose skin problems around the eyes because many conditions may cause a rash. To diagnose a rash around the eyes, doctors require a detailed examination of the affected area and complete medical history.

Keep reading to learn more about the causes, symptoms, and treatment of a rash around the eyes.

Eczema is a chronic skin condition. Doctors have identified several different types of eczema, one example being atopic dermatitis (AD).

AD is a skin condition that usually appears in childhood and can develop on any area of the body, including the face and around the eyes.

The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) state that researchers have identified the following factors that may play a role in causing AD:

People with AD may have an itchy rash. The AAD state that typically a person may first experience itchy skin. When a person scratches, a rash begins to appear.

The appearance of AD can vary depending on how old the person is:

In babies

In infants, the rash typically appears on the cheeks, scalp, and face. The skin may become dry or scaly. Sometimes, the rash may form blisters and then ooze and weep fluid.

In children

Children may develop AD in the elbow and feet creases. Other locations include:

  • neck
  • wrists
  • ankles
  • crease between buttocks and legs

Some accompanying symptoms in children may include:

  • bumpy-looking skin
  • darkened or lightened skin around the area of the rash
  • thickened or leathery skin

In adults

Approximately 2–3% of adults experience AD.

If it persists into adulthood, people may have fewer rashes. However, they tend to have:

  • extremely dry skin
  • skin that is easily irritated
  • hand eczema
  • eczema on the eyelids
  • cataracts

Adults with AD around the eyes may have darker, thickened skin circling the eyes, which may be very itchy.

Treatment

A person can make changes to their skin care routine and use certain medications to help treat AD.

Learn more about the treatment options for AD here.

Contact dermatitis is another type of eczema. There are two types of contact dermatitis:

Allergic contact dermatitis

Allergic contact dermatitis occurs when a person comes into contact with an allergen, such as:

  • nickel
  • latex
  • poison ivy
  • makeup

Symptoms include:

Irritant contact dermatitis

Irritant contact dermatitis occurs when a person comes into contact with something that damages the skin, such as:

Symptoms of irritant contact dermatitis include dry and chapped skin. If the exposure to the irritant continues, a person may notice inflamed, scaly, and swollen patches of skin.

Treatment

Treatment for either type of contact dermatitis may include antihistamines, moisturizers, and topical corticosteroid creams.

According to the British Association of Dermatologists, seborrheic means that the rash affects greasy skin zones. Seborrheic blepharitis affects the eyelids.

Seborrheic blepharitis typically occurs due to an overgrowth called Malassezia, which is a type of harmless yeast. It can also occur due to an overreaction of the skin’s immune system to the yeast.

A person may notice that their eyelids have become inflamed, crusty, and flaky.

In people with darker skin, the affected area may appear lighter or darker than the surrounding skin.

Other symptoms include:

  • irritated eyes
  • oversensitivity to light
  • gritty sensation in the eyes
  • itchy eyelids

Treatment

Treatment will involve using warm compresses, eyelid massages, and eyelid scrubs.

A person should apply a warm compress two to four times per day for 5–10 minutes.

An eyelid scrub will consist of gently rubbing the eyelids with a wet washcloth and detergent, such as a baby shampoo.

A healthcare professional may also prescribe topical corticosteroid drops, which generally are safe to use short term. However, long-term use may potentially lead to adverse effects.

Antibiotics may also be an option.

Psoriasis is a chronic condition that can last throughout a person’s life.

The condition occurs when the body produces skin cells too quickly. This causes skin cells to accumulate and form patches or spots on the skin, which doctors call plaques.

Although doctors have identified several different types of psoriasis, about 80–90% of people living with psoriasis have plaque psoriasis.

People with plaque psoriasis may notice:

  • patches of thick, raised skin or plaques of different sizes
  • scales, which are dry, thin, and silvery-white, covering some of the plaques
  • smaller plaques joining to form bigger plaques

The plaques can appear anywhere on the body, including the skin around the eyes, but the most common locations include:

  • knees
  • elbows
  • lower back
  • scalp

Psoriasis may have a genetic component since it runs in families. Researchers are still trying to determine exactly how psoriasis develops. The immune system and genes seem to play a role.

People with psoriasis may experience flare-ups when they come into contact with certain triggers, like eczema. Some common triggers include:

  • stress
  • injury to the skin, such as a cut or sunburn
  • infection, such as strep throat
  • medications, such as lithium, prednisone, and hydroxychloroquine
  • weather changes, especially cold and dry weather
  • tobacco
  • heavy alcohol consumption

Treatment

People living with psoriasis should speak with a doctor to find the most appropriate treatment.

Treatment options typically involve topical, oral, and injected medications.

Sometimes, doctors will need to combine different treatments, and systemic medications are rarely used without a topical prescription medication. Doctors may also prescribe biological medications combined with a topical prescription product.

Learn more about the treatment options for psoriasis here.

Orbital cellulitis is a bacterial infection of the soft tissues in a person’s eye socket. The most common bacteria that cause orbital cellulitis include Staphylococcus aureus and Streptococci.

Symptoms include:

  • pain when moving the eye
  • limited eye movement
  • inflamed, swollen eyelid
  • discharge from the eye
  • difficulty opening the eye
  • fever
  • fatigue
  • headache
  • loss of appetite

Treatment

Anyone suspecting that they have a bacterial skin infection such as cellulitis should seek medical attention immediately.

Typical treatment options are antibiotics and surgery.

The type of antibiotic a person may need for cellulitis depends on the type of bacterium that caused the infection.

While some people may receive oral antibiotics, others may require intravenous antibiotics.

Learn more about the treatment options for orbital cellulitis here.

Anyone who develops a rash around the eyes should speak with a doctor to determine its cause and possible treatment.

Other conditions that may cause a rash around the eyes include an allergic reaction, which may require immediate medical attention. Anyone who develops a rash around the eyes and is having trouble with vision must seek emergency medical attention.

Many conditions may cause a rash around the eyes. Among them are infections, such as orbital cellulitis, and dermatological conditions, such as allergic, irritant, and contact dermatitis.

People who experience a rash around the eyes should speak with a doctor to determine its cause.

With a proper diagnosis, doctors can treat rashes around the eyes. While some conditions are chronic or lifelong, doctors can prescribe medications and design care plans to manage the appearance of a rash around the eyes.

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