Over the past 40 years there’s been a huge rise in eczema with about one in five children in the UK affected today, says Margaret Cox, CEO of the National Eczema Society (www.eczema.org). Modern living, such as using more soaps and detergents, also fragrances and central heating which creates the perfect environment for house dust mites to thrive in, is likely to be the main cause, says Cox.
The good news is your child is highly likely to grow out of eczema. About 50% of children will grow out of eczema as a significant problem by the age of five, and by 16-18 years of age, only less than 5% continue to have eczema as an ongoing day to day problem.
What is eczema? – Atopic eczema, the most common childhood type, is usually itchy, red, dry patches found in areas with folds of skin, such as backs of knees, insides of elbows, sides of neck and around the eyes and ears.
What causes eczema? – Children are born with a susceptibility to develop eczema. There’s normally someone else in the family with eczema, asthma or hay fever. It is not caused by a specific allergy. But children with eczema have hypersensitive skin and are therefore more prone to allergic reactions and this can make their eczema worse. Environmental allergens such as house mite dust, grass pollen, cat and dog fur are known to trigger eczema.
Foods such as milk, eggs, citrus fruit, chocolate, peanuts and colourings, can also trigger eczema especially in infants, but they are not the primary cause of eczema. “Keeping an accurate diary of what your child eats and of the condition of the eczema can be useful…But always consult a doctor or dietician before you make any changes, especially long term, to a child’s diet,” says Cox.
Treating eczema – Unfortunately, there is no one cure-all treatment. But if you stick to a daily regime you should be able to keep the eczema in check.
- Keep skin moisturised as this will stop the itch, scratch cycle.
- Use plenty of emollients (products which moisturise and soften the skin) in the bath in oil form, as a soap substitute and as a moisturiser twice daily.
- Bathing is important as it washes away bacteria and allergens picked up throughout the day.
- Use an oil bath additive to sooth skin.
- Keep bath temperature cool.
- Soak for a maximum of 10-20 minutes.
- Wash hair over the bath first using shampoo for sensitive skin.
- Pat dry with a soft towel. Avoid rubbing skin too much.
- Apply treatment cream (if using) to areas of eczema.
- Then apply emollient moisturiser (one hour later if using treatment cream) to help seal moisture back in.
- Always use a moisturiser even when eczema is clear to prevent flare-ups.
- Night time is often tricky for children with eczema because when they get hot in bed they tend to itch more. Andrea Grace (www.andreagrace.co.uk) children’s sleep specialist, health visitor and nurse as well as a mother of four suggests:
- Use cotton bedding and sleepwear.
- Long-sleeved pyjamas can help reduce temptation to scratch.
- Keep nails short or use mittens for babies.
- Remove toys from the bed and keep bedroom cool.
- Teach your child to tap or gently pinch the skin until the itch has gone.
For a free booklet from the National Eczema Society on Childhood Atopic Eczema call the helpline 0800 0891122 or email at email@example.com.
My Nametag readers can get also get a free copy of the Comfort Skin Therapy booklet which has lots of tips and advice on dealing with childhood eczema by emailing CSTbooklet@webershandwick.com.