Scratching the Surface of Treating Eczema

Parents have been itching to ask me whether their child’s itchy skin could be eczema, so let me do more than “skin” the surface of this topic.

Eczema is a term that describes a skin condition in which the skin gets red and irritated and forms tiny red bumps that can ooze fluid or crust over. There is no definitive way to know if a child has eczema, other than to recognize the rash, along with a medical and family history suggestive of the disorder and what might have caused it.

Eczema can be a result of an allergic exposure to something that triggers the inflammatory reaction in the skin. Pollen and mold, dry winter air, harsh soaps and detergents, exposure to wool fabrics, tobacco smoke exposure, stress or even sweating can cause eczema.

Eczema occurs in about 10 percent of children, often starting in infancy and almost always appearing before a child turns five years of age. It is not contagious but about half of children with eczema will go on to develop other allergic diseases such as hay fever and possibly asthma. The other half of children with eczema will see it resolve by the time they reach adolescence.

So where is the rash most common? In infants and toddlers it’s common to see it start on the cheeks, forehead and scalp and then spread to the arms and legs and eventually the trunk. It is often found in the bends of the elbows, behind the knees or on the backs of the wrists and ankles.

Scratching makes eczema worse, so the name of the game is to use steroid creams or ointments, applied to the affected areas daily, to reduce inflammation – and the itchy feeling that leads to scratching. There are some nonsteroidal prescription ointments that can also reduce inflammation.

Antihistamines can be used orally to reduce the itching as well. Occasionally if the rash starts to ooze pus or is very red, an antibiotic may be needed to treat bacterial germs that have entered the inflamed area.

The key to dealing with eczema flare-ups is to prevent them from happening. The best way to do that is to avoid frequent long hot baths, which can dry the skin. Instead have your child take a brief shower or bath with warm but not hot water. Use a mild soap and then pat your child dry and follow with a moisturizing ointment that can be applied to lock moisture into the skin. Keeping your child hydrated will also keep the skin moist and less prone to dryness and irritation. If an allergic trigger is identified, minimizing exposure to that trigger will also help.

Hopefully tips like this will provide you with the “rash-ional” information you need when it comes to knowing more about eczema and how to deal with it.