The Independent Pharmacy

What Is Discoid Eczema?

Scott McDougall
Scott McDougallMPharmDirector & Registered Manager

Reviewed on 1 Nov 2023

Discoid eczema is a long-lasting or recurring skin condition that affects around 1 in 500 people. This means over 133,000 people in the UK suffer from discoid eczema.

We explain exactly what discoid eczema is, what it looks like and how you can treat it. We’ve included links to some of the most effective treatments and explained what type of discoid eczema cases they’re suitable for.

What's discoid eczema?

Discoid eczema is a chronic skin condition that causes cracks, swelling and itchiness. The condition is also known as discoid dermatitis, nummular dermatitis or nummular eczema and is notable for producing cracked circular or oval patches on areas of skin affected by it.

Discoid eczema can affect any part of the body but doesn’t often appear on your face or scalp, with the condition most commonly found on the lower legs and forearms.

What causes discoid eczema?

It’s not known conclusively what causes nummular dermatitis but having particularly dry skin is believed to be a reason people develop discoid eczema.

Dry skin doesn’t provide a proper barrier against harmful substances you come into contact with. The result of this lack of barrier is substances that are normally harmless (like soap) begin to irritate your skin.

Discoid eczema may also be caused by a minor skin injury, like a burn or an insect bite.

Contact dermatitis may play a part in causing discoid eczema. Contact dermatitis is so-called because it results from your skin coming into contact with irritants, such as laundry powder. This means the chemicals in detergents, toiletries and cosmetics may cause and make discoid eczema worse, or lead to allergic contact dermatitis.

It’s been known for people with discoid eczema to also suffer from atopic eczema, a hereditary condition that can afflict people with hay fever and asthma. Unlike atopic eczema, discoid eczema isn’t a hereditary condition.

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What does discoid eczema look like?

Discoid eczema begins as small pink, red or brown bumps and/or spots on your skin.

The bumps and/or spots build up into larger, circular patches. These patches vary in size, with some a couple of millimetres across and others several centimetres in total.

Starting as swollen, itchy blisters that leak fluid, the circular patches on your body can become flaky, crusty and cracked over time. The centre of the patchy skin can leave a ring of discoloured skin when it clears, which can lead to discoid eczema being mistaken for ringworm.

When comparing discoid eczema vs ringworm, you should consider if you have a burning sensation — the former does produce a burning sensation while the latter doesn’t.

Discoid eczema patches can become infected, with the below examples all being symptoms of an infection:

  • Patches leaking lots of fluid
  • Yellow crust appearing over your skin patches
  • The skin around your patches gets swollen, tender, hot and/or painful
  • You feel sick
  • You feel hot
  • You feel shivery

If you experience any of the symptoms of infected discoid eczema, you should immediately seek medical advice from a GP, doctor or pharmacist.

What does severe discoid eczema look like?

Discoid eczema starts as small bumps or spots that develop into circular patches of discoloured skin.

Mild discoid eczema cases appear as small, circular patches of skin of a few millimetres. As the condition increases in severity, these patches become larger still and increase to several centimetres in size.

Severe symptoms of discoid eczema are large, circular patches of skin that look infected. The signs of infection are that the patches ooze fluid, are covered with a yellow crust and their surroundings become hot, swollen and painful.

How long does discoid eczema last?

Discoid eczema ranges enormously in the length of time it can last. Some cases last weeks, while others last for months or years.

If discoid eczema goes untreated then it can last for a very long time. This is why it’s important to seek help from a doctor or pharmacist if you think you’re suffering from the condition.

How to treat discoid eczema?

There’s no guaranteed cure for discoid eczema but there are several treatments you can use.

The eczema treatments available range in intensity and the frequency with which they can be used, from those you can take at all times to those you must only take for a small period of time.

These are the main treatments you can use for discoid eczema:


Emollients are skin moisturisers. They’re designed to protect, moisturise, soften, freshen, hydrate and lubricate your skin and can be taken at all times when you have discoid eczema. Many emollients can be bought without needing a prescription, though, some do need one.

Emollients can come as creams, ointments or lotions. Below are lists of some of the creams, ointments and lotions you can use to treat your discoid eczema:

Emollient cream

Emollient ointment

Emollient lotion

Topical corticosteroids (topical steroid creams)

Topical corticosteroids (topical steroid creams) are an effective treatment for treating skin conditions where there’s inflammation, like discoid eczema, eczema of scabies, contact dermatitis and insect stings.

Topical corticosteroids can be taken during flare-ups, range in intensity and require a prescription. These are some of the topical corticosteroids you can use for troublesome discoid eczema:

Topical corticosteroids of weaker preparations:

Topical corticosteroids stronger preparations:

Antibiotics (topical corticosteroids)

Antibiotics are used to treat infections. The following topical corticosteroids of antibiotic preparations can be used to treat severe cases of discoid eczema:

Complete an online consultation to get prescription discoid eczema treatment

Over-the-counter treatments (creams, oils and ointments) can be an effective way of treating mild cases of discoid eczema.

If you have a severe case of discoid dermatitis or your skin has become infected then you can complete an online consultation and get prescription treatment for your discoid eczema through The Independent Pharmacy.

Or you can speak to one of our qualified medical experts, who can offer advice about choosing the most suitable treatment for discoid eczema.

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