Eczema, sometimes called atopic dermatitis, is a common, often recurrent skin disease. It can cause severe itching with a dry, scaly skin rash. Although many cases start in infancy, eczema can begin at any age. Eczema tends to run in families that have a history of allergies or hay fever. Eczema isn’t curable, but its symptoms can often be successfully treated. The good news is that many children eventually outgrow the problem.
Eczema is an inflammation of the skin similar to an allergy. Scratching and rubbing often make the rash worse. Itching often becomes worse at night and is brought on by:
- Temperature changes
- Dry skin
- Irritants, such as soaps, perfumes, bubble baths, chemicals and fibers such as wool
- Emotional stress
Eczema often starts with the itching caused by skin inflammation. The child rubs or scratches the itch, which makes the rash worse. In babies, the rash often turns up on the face or outside of the elbows or knees. The rash can spread all over the body. In older children, the rash often begins inside the bend of the knees or elbows. It may be isolated only on the hands, or on the feet, scalp or behind the ears.
Other symptoms include:
- Scratch marks
- Scaly, dry skin
- Yellow crusts or small, pus-filled bumps
- Thickened skin from scratching
Although eczema isn’t curable, it is treatable. Dry skin is the most common cause of itching. The best way to make the skin less dry is to apply lubricants. Apply the lubricant on the skin, at least two to three times a day. Ointments are best, followed by oils, creams and lotions.
Examples of good skin lubricants include:
Mineral, Baby, Corn, Soybean, Nivea®
Cetaphil®, Cerave®, Eucerin®, Lubriderm®, Moisturel®
Cetaphil®, Lac-hydrin Five®, Lubriderm®, Eucerin®, Vaseline Intensive Care Dry Skin Formula®, Cerave®
Bathe your children every day, if possible. Pat their skin dry, then apply the lubricant while their skin is still damp. Avoid hot baths and showers. Not only will the hot water dry the skin, the heat also can aggravate itching. Allow them to soak in a tub of clear, lukewarm water before soaping up. Unless their skin is truly dirty, water alone can often suffice for cleansing. Recommended soaps include unscented Dove®, unscented Oil of Olay®, Cetaphil®, Cerave®, or Basis®. Oatmeal baths like Aveeno® are also good.
- Bubble baths
- Wool or other harsh fabrics, blankets and carpeting
- Fabric softener sheets (and any fabric softener)
- Tight clothing
- Consider a detergent like All Free and Clear® that is free of perfumes, dyes and other irritants. And do not use any fabric softener.
- Keep fingernails short and clean.
- Use mittens or socks on the hands of infants.
- Keep your home’s thermostat set between 68 and 72 degrees F.
- Use a humidifier in winter months. Be sure to clean it regularly to prevent the growth of mold.
Your child’s doctor may prescribe steroid creams or lotions. Long-term use of steroid creams can cause thinning of the skin. So, if prescribed a steroid, use it for just the duration that your doctor recommends. Consult with your doctor if the prescribed medicine is not working within two to three weeks.
WHEN TO CALL THE DOCTOR
Call your pediatrician if your child’s eczema suddenly gets worse, especially if there is pain, oozing or crusting, which can signal infection. Your child may need a referral to a dermatologist, a doctor who specializes in skin disorders.