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Slideshow: How to care for childhood eczema

What is childhood eczema?

Eczema is also known as dermatitis, which means inflamed skin. The most common type in children is atopic eczema. It usually develops when a child has sensitive skin that gets irritated easily, causing flare-ups of itchy rashes. You can keep eczema flare-ups under control by managing what triggers them. Dry skin is a key cause of eczema, so moisturising can help. See your GP for a correct diagnosis and treatment options. Ointments usually trap moisture better than lotions. Apply moisturisers while your child’s skin is still damp and at least 20 minutes before bedtime.

Will my child grow out of it?

Atopic eczema affects about 1 in 5 children in the UK. In 8 out of 10 cases it develops before the age of 5, although some babies develop it in their first year. There’s no cure for the condition, but it does tend to get better as children get older, although the age differs from child to child. For some, the scaly patches may ease off by the time they’re 3 - 5 years old. In about half of cases, it gets better by age 11. About two-thirds get better by age 16, but some cases linger into adulthood. It’s thought hormones or stress may play a role in some flare-ups.

How do I stop the itching?

Scratching can make a child’s eczema worse and cause patches of skin to thicken and even bleed, risking infection and scarring. Keep your child’s nails short so he can do less damage. Itching can get worse at night, so you may want to give him light, anti-scratch mittens to wear to bed. Choose light, soft clothing and avoid clothes made from itchy fabrics like wool. Soothe itchy areas with a cool, moist compress or flannel.

Does heat make eczema worse?

Heat and sweat can aggravate eczema and trigger itching. Keep your house cool, especially your child’s bedroom. Choose cool, breathable clothing made from fabrics like cotton. Layer clothes to make it easy to take off a layer when necessary. Choose lightweight, cotton sheets and bedspreads.

How do we avoid allergies?

Allergies and eczema are often linked. Your GP may want to test your child to see if she reacts to certain allergens including:

  • Certain foods
  • Pet hair or dander
  • Dust mites
  • Pollen

If allergy triggers are identified, avoid them. For example, don’t allow pets in the bedroom, wash sheets often in hot water, and consider using dust mite covers on mattresses and pillows.

Does stress trigger eczema?

Stress and emotional upsets have been associated with flare-ups of eczema. Anger, embarrassment or frustration can all trigger itching and redness in children that are prone to eczema. It’s important to help your child identify what’s causing his stress, whether it’s exams, a public performance or just everyday pressures. Talk to your child about ways to manage stress. Some options include:

  • Deep breathing
  • Meditation
  • A distraction

Taking a break from a difficult situation or activity.

What does the doctor recommend?

See your GP if your child has symptoms of eczema. He or she may recommend a moisturising cream, and corticosteroid ointment to reduce redness and swelling. Other treatment options include:

  • Topical pimecrolimus or tacrolimus - for flare-ups in a sensitive area
  • Antihistamines – for extreme itching
  • Medicated bandages or body suits - to protect skin

Stronger treatments can be prescribed by a dermatologist. Only use medication on the area it’s meant for and only for the prescribed amount of time. Overuse can cause thinning of the skin.

Can medication have side effects?

Certain medications may cause side effects. Side effects of corticosteroids are rare, but range from:

  • A stinging sensation
  • Thinning skin
  • Skin colour changes
  • Acne (especially in teens)
  • Increased hair growth.

Antihistamine drugs that control itching can cause drowsiness, so your child may not be as alert in school. Always use medications as your doctor directed and alert him or her to any side effects. The good news is, effects like these usually go away once the treatment is finished.

What happens if skin gets infected?

The scratching that eczema can trigger may lead to broken skin and infection. Signs of skin infection include:

  • High temperature
  • Redness, warmth
  • Bumps or blisters
  • Weeping fluid
  • Bleeding

Seek medical advice right away if you suspect an infection. Your child may be prescribed oral antibiotics. If only a small area is affected, your child may be given an antibiotic cream. If the rash is severe your GP may prescribe other medication too.

Can eczema take an emotional toll?

If your child has eczema, she may struggle with self-esteem, or even be subjected to teasing, staring and embarrassment. Eczema is a chronic condition and the fact that it’s visible can make matters worse. If you suspect your child is suffering from emotional stress, talk to her. It may be affecting her school work, or her relationships with friends. Help is available. The National Eczema Society is a registered charity in the UK that’s committed to helping childen with these kind of issues. There are helplines and local support groups across the UK.

Soothing your child’s irritated skin

Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on October 25, 2016

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