Eczema is a common skin issue that can cause discomfort and pain, affecting your child’s daily life. It has been estimated that 1 in 10 individuals develops eczema during their lifetime.
The prevalence peaks in early childhood between two to six months. According to an estimate by the Eczema Association Australasia, around half of the children with eczema exhibit symptoms within their first year of life, and more than 20% develop eczema before age five.
Eczema can be difficult to manage, especially in children. Although most children outgrow the condition, a small proportion may experience episodes of severe eczema well into adulthood.
The impact of eczema extends beyond the suffering child and affects their loved ones. But don’t worry; with the right approach and attention, your child can live a life free from the discomfort and frustration of eczema. Here are 7 essential steps to help manage eczema in children.
1. Understanding Eczema and its Symptoms
Childhood eczema—also known as atopic dermatitis (AD)—is a common skin condition running and chronic and recurrent course. While not inherently life-threatening, AD poses a profound impact on the well-being of your child. Therefore, understanding the symptoms and triggers is crucial in managing the condition effectively.
Clinical signs include red, itchy, and inflamed patches frequently affecting the face, neck, inner elbows, hands, backs of knees, and ankles. In more severe cases, crusts, weepy skin may be formed, or even skin infections. Chronic eczema can lead to the formation of coarse, rough, and leathery skin. At times, the manifestations of eczema vary with an unpredictable course of illness. There may be periods of flare-ups and subsidence occurring sporadically.
The constant itching associated with eczema leads to disturbed sleep patterns and absence from work or school—limiting participation in everyday activities and responsibilities. In the most severe cases, it may necessitate hospitalization and incur substantial medical expenses.
2. Identifying Triggers and Allergens
AD results from a complex interplay of internal and external factors. Internally, a genetically predisposed child, particularly with a family history of asthma, eczema, or hay fever, is a significant red flag for the development of eczema.
Externally, certain dietary factors like dairy products, wheat, nuts, citrus fruits, eggs, seafood, and food additives or preservatives contribute to eczema onset and flares. Other external irritants include extreme weather conditions, overheating, tobacco smoke, and air conditioning. Allergens like house dust mites, pet dander, mold, pollens, woolen clothes, soaps, shampoos, and even detergents can trigger eczema. That’s why keeping a record of your child’s activities, diet, and exposure to potential allergens may help identify the triggers.
3. Keeping Skin Hydrated
Skin inflammation in AD leads to intense itching. This creates a cyclical process called the “itch-scratch cycle,” where scratching the skin leads to further inflammation and a resultant increase in itching, exacerbating the scratching. This vicious cycle exacerbates rash and inflammation in the affected areas, worsened by dry skin. Therefore, keeping your child’s skin hydrated is essential to preventing further inflammation. Encourage children to drink plenty of water and apply a gentle, fragrance-free moisturizer several times a day over their skin.
4. Choosing the Right Skincare Products
Tending to the delicate skin of a child with atopic dermatitis is the most crucial aspect of eczema management. Adopting the right skincare regimen can be a game-changer to soothe their sensitive skin. Look for products labeled ‘hypoallergenic,’ ‘fragrance-free,’ and ‘gentle on the skin.’ Steer clear of skin care products containing alcohol, fragrances, and harsh chemicals.
There are many moisturizers in the market specifically formulated for eczematous skin. An ideal moisturizer for your child’s itchy skin should contain ingredients like gamma-linolenic acid, ceramide, natural moisturizing factors (NMF), niacinamide (B3), colloidal oatmeal, fatty acids, glycerine, and petroleum.
5. Implementing a Healthy Diet
Since many foods can trigger eczema, encouraging a balanced diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables, and healthy fats can help tame the symptoms. If you suspect a specific food is triggering your child’s eczema, talk to a doctor about an elimination diet.
6. Reducing Stress
Stress worsens eczema. A study published in the Acta Dermato-Venereologica journal found that children with AD experience anxiety, depression, and emotional disturbance.
Stress and AD create a no-win situation where stress worsens AD and vice versa. Stress changes dampen the body’s immune response, including changes in the skin barrier function, hormone levels, and itching sensations. These changes increase the level of neuropeptides and neurotrophins in a child’s body, which worsen the symptoms of AD.
Encourage your child to participate in stress-busting activities like exercise, yoga, or mindfulness. In fact, studies have also shown that psychological treatments and programs can be more effective in improving AD symptoms and quality of life compared to just using regular treatments.
7. Seeking Medical Assistance
If your child’s eczema symptoms persist or worsen, seek medical assistance. A doctor will help develop a personalized treatment plan and prescribe medication whenever necessary. This is achieved through a combination of moisturization, topical corticosteroids, antihistamines, bandaging, antibiotics, allergy testing, dietician assistance, and probiotics. Doctors also prescribe oral corticosteroids, systemic immunosuppressants, or phototherapy in severe cases. A thorough consultation is essential before starting any medication.
In conclusion, managing eczema in children can be challenging but achievable. By following these essential steps, you can help your child live a life free from the discomfort and frustration of eczema.
Dr. Alpana Mohta (MBBS, MD, DNB) is an award-winning dermatologist, cosmetologist, trichologist, and venereologist with countless achievements spanning her medical career. She has a keen interest in research which is evident by her 60+ research publications in noted scientific journals. Her areas of interest include clinical dermatology, infectious diseases, leprosy, dermatopathology and dermatosurgery.
Website: Dr. Alpana Mohta