It is always distressing for parents when their little one has an obvious skin complaint. However, you are not alone! Childhood eczema is an increasing problem affecting, on average, 1 in 8 children. Approximately 30% of children present with eczema before the age of 4 years. Eczema is a long-term condition but is often controllable.
Most children have mild forms of eczema which can be treated. 60-70% of children affected with eczema when small, are clear of skin inflammation by their mid teens.
WHAT IS ECZEMA?
Eczema is not a contagious condition it causes your child’s skin to become red, dry and itchy. This can start by your little one scratching an irritated part of their skin until it becomes raw and inflamed. Persistent scratching of the inflamed area increases the risk of infection and potentially spread.
Two of the most common types of eczema are:
Atopic Eczema: This is linked with hay fever or asthma and causes an overall dryness of the skin.
Allergic Contact Dermatitis: When the body has a reaction against a particular substance such as washing up liquid, soap, washing powder or rough materials.
HOW TO RECOGNIZE ECZEMA?
If your family has a history of allergies or asthma they can be more susceptible to eczema. Often it’s easily recognisable and canbegin in the cracks of the body like behind the leg, on the elbow or behind the ears. In babies it can begin in the groin area or on the cheeks.
When eczema becomes infectedit can cause your child’s skin to crack, bleed and in some cases form a yellow crust or present itself in the form of small red bumps on the surface of the skin.
WHAT ARE THE CAUSES OF ECZEMA?
The exact cause of this condition is not known but there are many factors which can affect your child’s eczema such as:
- Environment: Winter weather can irritate eczema, causing it to become dry and itchier. Pollen can have an affect and pets in the home can make it even itchier, as the animal fur increases the chance of an allergic reaction on the skins surface. Dust in the home can have the same affect as can tobacco smoke, synthetic or woollen fabrics, biological detergents and fabric conditioners.
- Diet: If your child has eczema they may also have food allergies. Cutting out dairy products can have a positive affect on your child’s condition. Certain foods can cause the eczema to get worse. If you think this may be the case, keep a food diary for your child. You may then spot trigger foods that cause the eczema to worsen. Then discuss this with a dietician.
HOW TO TREAT ECZEMA
Cotton clothing next to your child’s skin will be more soothing than wool or any non breathable material. Washing clothes in a hypoallergenic detergent with no fabric conditioner will reduce the possibility of the residue in clothes being irritating to your child’s skin. Ideally the home should be a dust, smoke and pet free environment. If your child’s eczema has been identified and linked with a known dietary allergen, then restrict this substance otherwise no dietary restrictions should be necessary. If your child is particularly warm their skin may be more sensitive and more irritated.
Good maintenance is the key. When you know what most affects your child and can keep these factors to a minimum, using a good skin care routine you will find that there are fewer flare ups.
If treatment is needed:
There are a number of different treatments many of which must be prescribed by your family doctor:
Emollients: Emollients come in the form of ointments creams or lotions and some are really good when put in your child’s bath. These will soothe the skin.
Moisturisers: These are preventative therapy. They reduce water loss from the skin and provide a seal.
Topical Steroids: These should only be used for seven consecutive days, and then discontinued, unless your doctor has told you otherwise. They are useful for infected Eczema and for flare ups in the condition.
Oral Steroids: Usually only prescribed by a Dermatologist, if the eczema has become severe. Again, treatment times must be followed exactly.
A daily bath is recommended and effective in keeping your child’s skin clean and keeping infection to at bay. The key is to ensure that your child’s skin is well moisturized.
Cotton clothing can be affective as it is non irritant. If the hands are sore, cotton gloves can be worn to stop your child itching in the night. Your child should have light bedding which keeps them warm but it is important that they do not overheat as this can cause irritation and sleeplessness.
There are so many treatments for eczema in the forms described above. You will get to know your child’s condition, what does and does not work for them and their skin.
In severe cases of childhood eczema your family doctor may prescribe Antihistamine medicines for night time. These may reduce the itchiness and help your child to get better nights sleep.
This article was written in the Netherlands by Deirdre Budd. See her website www.dream-angus.com