Childhood eczema is very common, affecting about one in seven children. Untreated or inadequately treated the itching can cause misery and lead to chronic sleep loss and painful skin infections.
Children often need time off school and may face restrictions to normal activities like swimming or other physical pursuits.
What does eczema look like and how can you tell if your child has it?
Eczema is a patchy red rash of the skin tending to favour the body fold areas like elbows, knees and neck, but it can affect any area including the face. Typically it is extremely itchy, so children with the condition will scratch – leading to breaks in the skin and bleeding.
What causes eczema?
It can be difficult to find the cause of eczema and children should be assessed individually to determine what is irritating their skin and the best treatment plan.
Often, the condition is genetic —meaning most children who suffer from it will have a parent who was also affected as a child. The skin is extra-sensitive, cannot retain moisture as it should and is much more likely to become inflamed when exposed to common irritants such as soap, sweat, dirt, and chlorine.
Some children have allergies that can worsen their skin as well. Common examples are house dust mites found in soft furnishings, cats and dogs, and grasses.
Surprisingly, genuine food allergies are rarely a cause of eczema. In the very young, cow’s milk can sometimes aggravate eczema but thankfully children grow out of this tendency by the age of 12 months.
How can I treat my child’s eczema in the home? Dos and don’ts.
Be constantly kind and gentle to your child’s skin and avoid known irritants or allergens:
- Use a non-soap cleanser when showering or bathing.
- Wash off dirt, sweat, grass and chlorine quickly after swimming or playing in the yard using plain water.
- Try and minimise exposure to house dust mite. Nearly all children with eczema are allergic to this.
- Limit contact with cats and dogs if your child is allergic to them.
- Moisturise the skin on a regular basis and put on twice as much as you think you need to!
When should I seek help?
When the above tips don’t work, visit your GP who may prescribe a cortisone cream. These creams can make a major difference when the basics have failed. There is still a certain amount of myth surrounding cortisones in the treatment of eczema but the simple truth is that, used appropriately, they are extremely safe, even for long-term use.
In some very severe cases your GP may refer you to a dermatologist. A dermatologist can offer more advanced treatments, sometimes with tablets. These can be very effective but do have a slightly greater risk of side effects and may require monitoring with blood tests.
Will my child have eczema forever?
Usually, no. The majority of children (about 85%) grow out of their tendency towards it by the age of 15.