My youngest child has been really itchy lately. Could it be eczema?
Eczema is the name for a group of conditions that can cause the skin to become itchy, irritated, inflamed, or have a rash-like appearance. It is also known as atopic dermatitis.
So, what exactly is eczema?
Eczema is a chronic skin condition that often runs in families and can occur with other allergic conditions such as asthma and allergic rhinitis. Many kids with eczema also have food or environmental allergies.
Eczema is a problem with the outer layer of the skin. The skin barrier is not good at keeping moisture in while keeping bacteria and environmental allergens out. The skin becomes dry, red and itchy. While eczema affects at least one in 10 children, it is NOT contagious!
What does eczema look like?
Eczema rashes can look different in different children. They can be all over the body or in just a few spots. The rash can worsen at times (these are called flares) and then get better at times. Children who get eczema flares at certain times of the year might have environmental allergies that are triggers for the skin irritation.
In babies, eczema usually starts on the scalp and face. Red, dry rashes may show up on the cheeks, forehead and around the mouth. Eczema usually doesn’t develop in the diaper area.
In school-age children, it can often develop in the creases on the front of the elbows, on the back of the knees, on the neck and around the eyes.
How do I treat eczema?
The best ways to treat eczema include:
- Moisturize — this is key to keeping flares at bay.
- Use fragrance-free moisturizers such as Vanicream, Eucerin, CeraVe and Cetaphil. Always use creams or ointments instead of lotions as they are thicker and don’t absorb as easily.
- Moisturizing is work! Be prepared to do it several times a day, every day, especially in times of flares.
- Give your child short, lukewarm baths. It is also important not to rub-dry the skin, but rather pat-dry instead. Do apply creams or ointments immediately while skin is still moist to trap water against the skin.
- Wear breathable fabrics like cotton.
- Watch rubbing of hats, pads and other clothing items against the skin. Use petroleum gel as a barrier and keep sports equipment clean and dry to limit skin irritation.
- Avoid skin irritants such as perfumed lotions and soaps.
- Use hypoallergenic detergent such as ALL Free Clear Liquid Laundry Detergent or hypoallergenic Tide. Do not use fabric softeners.
- Trim fingernails: Scratching can lead to more inflammation and even infection.
- Use over-the-counter antihistamine medications like Benadryl to help with itching. Calamine and Caladryl lotions can also reduce itching.
When should I worry?
Occasionally bacterial or viral infections develop on top of eczema rashes. It is best to see your doctor if you see yellow or honey-colored crusting and scabbing, weepy or oozy skin, blisters or rash that is hard to control.
Eczema flares can be very uncomfortable for children, especially babies and toddlers. Please contact your doctor if your child has trouble sleeping, is crying more than usual, or not playing or eating as expected due to itching and irritated skin.
Do kids outgrow eczema?
For some kids, eczema starts to go away by age 4. However, some kids continue to have eczema into adulthood.
Dr. Ashika Sharma is a physician with ActiveKidMD in Anaheim Hills. A Southern California native, Sharma has been practicing pediatrics for over 10 years as well as sports medicine. She is a dual board-certified pediatric and sports medicine specialist, and an active member of the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine, For more information, please visit www.activekidmd.com or follow her on Facebook (www.facebook.com/activekidmd), Instagram (www.instagram.com/activekidmd).