Periocular dermatitis can look pretty serious and worrying, but is it catching?!
Let's look at what it is and how it affects the skin.
What is periocular dermatitis?
Periocular dermatitis is a kind of dermatitis that occurs around the eye. This could be under the eye or on the eyelids.
What does periocular dermatitis look like?
Dermatitis is a catch-all term for skin irritation, so dermatitis that occurs around the eye could in theory look the same as any dermatitis, anywhere else on the body, so it’s quite a broad term! But in practice, the kind of irritation that occurs in this area can be itchy, spotty, pustular, sore, inflamed, dry, hot or bumpy.
What causes periocular dermatitis?
Dermatitis can be caused by all sorts of things, but generally the culprit is one of these three factors:
- A flare up of an existing chronic skin conditions like eczema, psoriasis, rosacea or seborrheic dermatitis
- An allergen that the sufferer is allergic to
- An irritant that the skin of the eyes has come into direct contact with
- An imbalance of microcrobes in follicles
For more detailed information about possible causes, see our blog What Causes Dermatitis Around Eyes?
Is periocular dermatitis contagious?
Having seen that the likely causes of periocular dermatitis are generally external irritants and allergens, and not bacteria or viruses, it’s possible to say that it’s not contagious! Even the imbalance of microbes - whether fungal or bacterial - that might sometimes be to blame for flare-ups on the skin around the eyes, is not something you can pass on to someone else.
Could it be something else?
There is of course the possibility that the spotty rash around your eyes isn’t dermatitis, but is instead something catching, like a bacterial infection.
Impetigo, for example, can sometimes look similar to a pustular rash around the eyes or mouth. Like some perioral or periocular dermatitis, impetigo has fluid-filled spots or bumps, and can feel hot and itchy, but unlike periocular dermatitis, it is highly contagious.
Impetigo is diagnosed by its distinctive crusty yellow appearance, and the fact it most usually affects children, not adults. So if you’re an adult and have pustular spots around your eyes or mouth, which don’t crust over, suspect periorificial dermatitis first!
The other contagious issue that might be mistaken for periocular dermatitis is conjunctivitis, which is catching whether it's bacterial or viral in origin. While conjunctivitis is a condition of the eye itself, not the skin, it can result in sore skin around the eye. And conversely, if you rub your eyes because the skin around them is irritated, it could result in a 'pink eye' appearance that is superficially similar to conjunctivitis: see the picture at the top of the blog for an example of that!
Either way, go get a diagnosis from your GP if you’re getting spots or rashes around your eyes, as the area is extremely delicate and you will need to make sure your eyes themselves aren’t affected.
For information about how to look after skin prone to periocular dermatitis, see our blog How Do You Treat Periocular Dermatitis?
Recommend products for skin prone to periocular dermatitis:
Balmonds Skin Salvation
with hemp and beeswax
Balmonds Omega-Rich Cleansing Oil
with rosehip and calendula
If you require medical advice we recommend you always contact your healthcare professional.
If you or someone you are caring for seems very unwell, is getting worse or you think there's something seriously wrong, call for emergency services straight away. For general medical advice, please contact your healthcare professional, this article does not contain or replace medical advice.
Do not delay getting help if you're worried. Trust your instincts.