If your child’s been diagnosed with eczema, you might feel frustrated, confused and a little helpless. But you’re not alone. At least 10% of infants have atopic eczema (atopic is the term given to ‘allergic’ conditions such as hay fever, asthma and this type of eczema, the most common in babies and children).
The chronic, inflamed rash it creates on your little one’s delicate skin can be upsetting for both of you, and the conflicting advice on what you can and can’t do about it doesn’t help. So, we talk to the experts to bust some of those myths…
Myth 1: “It’s an allergic reaction”
Not true, says Margaret Cox from the National Eczema Society: “Eczema is not an allergic reaction, though flare-ups can be triggered by things like dust mites, perfumed soaps and pollen.
“Skin affected by eczema tends to be dry and produce less fat and oils than normal skin,” continues Margaret. “This makes its protective barrier less effective, allowing bacteria, allergens and irritants to pass through the skin more easily, making it red and inflamed. That’s why the products to treat eczema rehydrate and lock moisture into the skin, while keeping the barrier more intact, so fewer irritants and allergens can invade.”
Myth 2: “It’s contagious”
Because eczema can look unsightly, many people assume it’s infectious – this is one of the reasons many children with eczema get bullied. But it’s certainly not ‘catching’.
It is something that tends to run in families, however, says Bevis Man from the British Skin Foundation. “If one or both parents suffer from eczema, asthma or hay fever, it is more likely their children will suffer too,” he says.
Myth 3: “It’s because I didn’t breastfeed”
“Research shows that exclusively breastfeeding your baby for the first four to six months can reduce the chances of eczema, but bottle-feeding your baby will not have caused your baby’s eczema,” says Dr Adam Fox, consultant in paediatric allergy at St Thomas’ hospital, London.
Myth 4: “Daily baths will aggravate eczema”
Daily bathing is fine as long as you keep things simple, says Bevis Man. Make use of the special emollients that are on sale for bathing with eczema. “Heat can often trigger flare-ups, so use warmer, rather than hot, water. Avoid bubble baths and soaps that can strip the skin’s natural oils – use a soap substitute,” he says.
Myth 5: “I can’t use moisturiser on eczema”
Moisturising with emollient cream is perfect to help eczema, and the best time to do it is after bathtime. “When the skin has cooled down – five to 10 minutes after the bath – its water content is at its highest, so lock the moisture in with an emollient, “ says Bevis. “Emollients are very safe and cannot be overused – they cover the skin with a protective coat, which keeps water in and other things out. Ideally, emollients should be used at least twice a day, or as often as necessary.”
Myth 6: “Steroids for eczema will harm my baby’s skin”
Many parents are loath to use steroid creams on their little one’s delicate skin. “Steroid creams have a bad name. This dates from the 1960s and 70s, when they were misused, resulting in thinning of the skin,” says Bevis Man. “But they are a safe way to treat atopic eczema if used properly and according to the instructions.” See your GP for advice – he or she should prescribe certain strengths of steroids for different areas of your child’s body.
Myth 7: “I can’t take a child with eczema swimming”
In fact, seawater can be good for your baby’s skin! “The salt has a semi-disinfectant effect – though don’t give your baby a dip if her skin is broken and weeping,” Margaret Cox explains. And while it’s true that chlorine can irritate your baby’s eczema, you can go to the pool if you take care. “Use an emollient all over her body before the pool, shower afterwards with an emollient wash, and then thoroughly moisturise with emollient,” adds Margaret.
“People ask what’s wrong with him”
“When Jamie had dry skin on his face at 3 months, I had no idea of the torment that was to follow. Dry patches and a rash spread over almost all his body, and during flare-ups became red and inflamed, especially on his ankles, knees, elbows and face. The itching drove him mad, and his skin would seep and bleed.
At its worst, it looks as though Jamie’s skin has been burnt and it’s hot to touch. People stare at him and some people comment on his face, asking me what on earth is wrong with him. I’ve been prescribed steroid cream for the worst patches and we use an antihistamine to help stop the itch at night, which can be the worst time for poor Jamie.
When he turned 1, I was put in touch with a community nurse, who has helped develop a skincare regime. We’ve been able to get Dermasilk bodysuits (normally over £40) on prescription; they’re medical-grade silk, which doesn’t irritate Jamie’s skin, keeps him cool and reduces the itching. I feel so sad for Jamie when I see other babies’ skin. I do hope he’ll grow out of his eczema – apparently a lot of babies do – but until then I am trying everything to make life comfortable for him.”
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Claire Pomfret, 34, from Manchester is mum to Jamie, 17 months.
Did you know… eating fish can help!
A recent Swedish study suggested that introducing fish to a baby’s diet before the age of 9 months helps cut the risk of him developing eczema by about 24%