About discoid eczema

Discoid eczema is a fairly common type of eczema, seen in people with and without a history of atopic eczema. It has a distinctive appearance with oval or round patches, and can be very itchy.

What causes discoid eczema?

The exact cause of discoid eczema is not known. Children and adults with atopic eczema can present with discoid eczema or a mixture of both flexural eczema (eczema in the skin creases) and discoid eczema. People who had atopic eczema in childhood are often left with dry skin – these people may develop discoid eczema as adults, particularly on the hands. Others with no history of eczema but who nevertheless have ‘sensitive skin’, which is drier than normal, can also develop discoid eczema, often in middle age or later. Emotional stress may play a part in the development of discoid eczema, but is unlikely to be the sole cause of it.

What does it look like?

It usually appears quite suddenly on the first occasion, when one or two round or oval dull red patches appear, the size of a 50 pence piece or smaller. 

These patches start off with a slightly bumpy surface and fuzzy edges, usually on the lower legs, trunk or forearms, although hands and fingers can also be affected. Within a few days, the patches often develop raised lumps or blisters which start to ooze, and they can become very itchy, crusted and infected. 

Later on, the surface becomes scaly and the centres of the discs clear, leaving the skin dry and flaky. 

See your GP for a diagnosis (and treatment) if you think that you may have discoid eczema because other skin conditions such as psoriasis and ringworm can look very similar.

How is it treated?

People with discoid eczema often have dry skin that should be treated to improve existing eczema and help prevent further flares. A wide range of emollients, also known as moisturisers, are available to treat dry skin – various brands can be bought from a supermarket or pharmacy, and some can be prescribed by your doctor or nurse. Emollients can be used for both moisturising and washing.

Once discoid eczema has developed, the skin can become very red, itchy and inflamed – if this happens, your doctor may prescribe a topical steroid to apply to the affected areas to help them clear up. The potency (strength) of the steroid used will depend on the severity of eczema.

For more information on discoid eczema, please see our Discoid eczema factsheet