Did you know that eczema is the most common skin problem treated by pediatricians? In our practice, Westchester Health Pediatrics, we see a lot of eczema, especially in babies and toddlers. Fortunately, eczema is not contagious, but it tends to run in families with a history of eczema or other conditions such as hay fever and asthma. Different triggers can make it worse, such as stress, allergies and sweating.
Eczema flare-ups can be especially problematic because excessive rubbing and scratching of the itchy areas can tear the skin, which in turn can lead to infection. To help our young patients and their parents, I offer this blog with advice on how to manage the very common, but very challenging, condition of eczema.
Facts about eczema
Atopic dermatitis, or eczema, is a skin disorder that typically appears in babies and very young children. About 65% of children with eczema develop symptoms before age 1, and 90% before age 5. Some children outgrow eczema by the time they are young adults, although their skin remains dry and sensitive. A few may have it all their lives.
Because eczema is a chronic skin problem, the symptoms can come and go. There are times when the symptoms are worse (flare-ups), followed by times when the skin gets better or clears up completely (remissions).
Eczema can appear anywhere on the body or in just a few areas, and the symptoms are different with each child.
- In babies: a rash often appears on the face and scalp
- In younger children: a rash often appears in the folds of the elbows and knees
- In teens and young adults: a rash often appears on the hands, feet, arms and the backs of knees
Typical symptoms include:
- Dry, scaly skin
- Small bumps that “weep” when scratched
- Redness and swelling of the skin
- Thickening of the skin
How to prevent eczema flare-ups
One of the most helpful things you can do for a child with eczema is to prevent flare-ups before they happen. Based on our years of experience with hundreds of patients with eczema, here are the best preventative steps you can take:
- Keep your child’s skin moisturized.
Moisturizing should be a part of your child’s daily treatment plan.
- Use fragrance-free moisturizers.
- Cream or ointment is more moisturizing than lotion.
- After a bath, gently pat the skin with a towel and then apply moisturizer to the damp skin.
- Apply moisturizer at least once a day, more often if needed, applied to the face and entire body.
- Avoid irritants.
Children who are sensitive to scratchy fabrics or chemicals in soaps and detergents should:
- Wear soft fabrics such as 100% cotton clothing.
- Use mild, fragrance-free body cleansers.
- Take short baths with room temperature water.
- Take less frequent baths.
- Use mild laundry detergent with no dyes or perfumes.
- Skip using fabric softener in the dryer.
- Remind your child not to scratch.
Scratching can make the rash worse and lead to infection. Also, the more your child scratches, the more itchy the area will be. To avoid this, keep your child’s fingernails short and smooth, and try to distract your child from scratching.
- Ask your child’s pediatrician if allergies could be a cause of the eczema.
Sometimes allergies, such as food, pets, pollens or dust mites (in bedding), can trigger eczema or make it worse. If your child’s eczema is caused by an allergy, avoid the trigger, if possible. Also ask about other things that might be causing flare-ups, such as overheating, sweating and stress.
Treatment for eczema
Your pediatrician may recommend medication to help your child feel better and keep the symptoms of eczema under control. The type of medicine recommended will depend on how severe the eczema is and where it appears on your child’s body. These include over-the-counter and/or prescription topical medications (applied to the skin) and oral ones (taken by mouth).
Things to remember
Eczema is a chronic skin problem, which means it can come and go. It requires ongoing management by you, your child and your child’s doctor. If your child’s eczema is not improving, talk with your pediatrician about your concerns. You may need to see a dermatologist for severe or resistant eczema.
- American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology
- American Academy of Dermatology
- American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology
- National Eczema Association
- National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases
- Society for Pediatric Dermatology
If your child suffers from eczema, please come see us
If eczema is affecting your child, regardless of whether it’s a mild or severe case, please make an appointment with Westchester Health Pediatrics to see one of our highly-experienced pediatricians. Together, we’ll determine the best course of treatment so that your child can soon get relief and feel better.