Eczema and your toddler – what is it and how can you treat it?

One in five children suffer from eczema. So what is it and how can you make it better?

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Why does my child have eczema?

There’s no single cause of eczema, but usually there’s a family history of eczema, asthma or hay fever. If you had any of these, your child has a 25% risk of developing it. If you and your partner were both sufferers, this rises to 55%-65%.

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A popular theory for the rise in eczema is our obsession with hygiene. Children need to be exposed to enough germs and dirt to build up a strong immune system.

Is it definitely eczema?

Signs are:
•Patches of rough, red and often thick skin, especially on face and in skin creases.
•Scratching.
•Dry skin that cracks and blisters.
•Waking a lot at night.

Your doctor will normally diagnose it by looking at your child’s skin and asking about your family history. Because eczema isn’t caused by a single allergy, tests aren’t usually used.

How can I help manage the eczema?

•Moisturise your child’s skin daily with emollients. Stroke the moisturiser on gently in a downward action – don’t rub it in as that blocks up the hair follicles.
•Use a medicated bath oil instead of bubble bath.
•Use a soap-free wash instead of normal soap.
•Use emollients at least twice a day on dry skin.

How can I stop my child scratching?

Don’t let your child scratch his skin, however bad the itch. Scratching leaves it open to infection.
•Use lots of emollient, as dry skin is more likely to itch.
•Keep his nails short so if he does scratch he won’t break the skin.
•Use cotton mitts on babies and toddlers to stop them scratching at night.
•When he watches TV, give him something to hold or play with to stop him scratching inadvertently.

What are the medical treatments for eczema?

•Your doctor might prescribe a very weak steroid cream to apply once or twice a day when the skin flares up.
•If your child wakes a lot at night because of itchy skin, your doctor might prescribe an antihistamine syrup to help calm the irritation and help him sleep better.
•More severe eczema might be treated with wet wraps. Special tubular bandages are put on in two layers – one wet and one dry – over a layer of emollient or steroid cream. It stops your child scratching, gets more moisture into his skin and soothes itchiness.

What triggers eczema?

•Synthetic and woolen clothes.
•Biological detergents.
•Some foods. In babies under 1, dairy foods are a common trigger, but always see a dietician before cutting out any suspect foods.
•Cigarette smoke.
•Pets. However, it’s thought that if a child has grown up with a pet it may not affect him.
•Dust mites. Keep these at bay by washing bedding frequently at high temperature and regular vacuuming. Put soft toys in the freezer overnight, then wash to remove dust mite droppings.

Eczema and the weather

Children’s eczema often gets better in the summer. But ensure you:
•Put on emollients 30 minutes before applying sunscreen, so that you don’t dilute the sunscreen.
•Test sunscreen on a small area first.
•Put your child in a UV sunsuit on a hot day at the beach so you don’t need to put on so much sunscreen.
•Dress your child in loose cotton clothes to protect his skin. A wet t-shirt is good for cooling hot, irritated skin.
•Avoid swimming pools as chlorine can irritate young dry skin. For older children, apply a thick moisturiser before swimming and soak in an oily bath afterwards.
•Don’t mow the lawn when he’s outside as grass pollen can cause a flare-up

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For more info, head to the National Eczema Society

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