Eczema, also known as atopic eczema or atopic dermatitis, is a common skin condition affecting between 20 and 40 percent of children. Having a young child with eczema can be distressing and worrying, especially once they start attending nursery school or school and are away from you for long periods of time each day. Below you will find tips on the things you can do to help your child cope with painful, itchy flare-ups and spend as much time as possible enjoying life.
Prepare to prevent
An eczema flare-up can occur at any time but through a combination of close observation and using the right treatment, it can be possible to keep the number to a minimum. Below are fifteen tips that will help you manage your child’s eczema.
Keep a diary of your child’s eczema, noting when and where flare-ups occur.
Look for patterns in what your child has been doing and where he or she has been, to try and work out the triggers for eczema flare-ups.
Prevention is always better than cure; identifying and avoiding situations that trigger flare-ups are key steps in helping to minimise the impact that eczema has on your child’s life. The following may be helpful in better understanding your child’s triggers: does your child’s eczema get worse when they have been playing with a friend (perhaps the friend’s family has pets)?
Does the eczema get worse after swimming or after sports at school?
Does eating certain food trigger a flare-up?
It may be useful to share your eczema diary with your child’s doctor or nurse in order to discuss prevention strategies and/or treatments. It should be noted, however, that not all flare-ups have identifiable triggers.
It is only too easy for parents to blame themselves when they see their child suffering with a flare-up, but it is important to remember that eczema is not the parent’s fault. Foods are very rarely related to eczema. Do not avoid foods without a proven allergy to them.
Try to maintain a balance between giving your child the best possible care for his or her eczema and avoiding letting the condition dominate family life.
Telling a school or nursery teacher about your child’s eczema, and the steps you are taking to avoid flare-ups, can be particularly important as this allows the teacher to help. Give the teacher a list of any substances or activities that your child should avoid and explain the purpose of any moisturisers or special handwashes you have given your child to use at school.
As your child gets older, it will become more important for them to take control of managing their eczema. Knowledge is power, so help them to do this by teaching them how they can take steps to prevent flare-ups and reminding them of these steps regularly. Educating your child about how to manage eczema can help him or her to participate in as many normal childhood activities as possible.
If they know, for example, that they must always take a cool shower and moisturise after swimming or sports to reduce the risk of flare-ups, they may be more likely to be able to go on enjoying these activities.
Keeping your child’s finger- and toenails short will help to minimise damage to the skin from scratching. This is important all the time, not just during a flare-up, so make regular nail trimming part of your normal routine. The long nails will cause more damage to the skin and introduce infections.
Keeping the skin well moisturised will help to prevent eczema flare-ups and itch, so be sure to apply your child’s emollients daily. MOISTURISE, MOISTURISE, MOISTURISE.
Daily bathing with special moisturising products, is often recommended for children with eczema. The bath water should be lukewarm and the bathroom not too hot, as extremes of temperature can irritate the skin. Soap and products containing soap such as bubble baths and shower gels, can be very drying to the skin and should be avoided. When helping your child to dry, use the towel very softly and avoid rubbing. Apply a moisturiser after bathing.
The different seasons can bring different challenges for children with eczema. Air conditioning in summer can dry the skin, as can central heating in winter, so it is important to maintain a careful moisturising routine throughout the year. Extremes of temperature can also cause damage to the skin. Making sure your child is not too warmly dressed in winter, as being too warm may trigger flare-ups. In winter, it is important that your child’s bedroom is not too warm. Also using rough fabrics, like wool, directly onto the skin, can result in irritation and flare-ups.
Getting the right treatment
Eczema is a complicated condition and there is no cure for it now (although a huge amount of research is being conducted in this area). These days, however, there are a range of effective treatments that can help your child live life to the full. Some of these treatments are designed to be used regularly to prevent flare-ups, while others are used for a shorter period to treat a flare-up and help the skin to heal. Every child is different and finding the right treatment or combination of treatments for your child may take some time. It is important that you work closely with your child’s dermatologist to monitor how effectively each treatment is working and to ensure that all treatments are used exactly as recommended. When your child starts a new treatment, make sure that you know exactly when and how it should be applied and in what quantities. Do not be afraid to ask questions if you are not sure about something.