Children with Eczema: Causes, Symptoms, Triggers & How to Treat it
Did you know that the most common form of eczema is Atopic eczema?
Atopic eczema (also known as atopic dermatitis) is a skin condition that more commonly develops in children, but can also develop in adults of any age. In the UK, atopic eczema affects 1 in 5 children, and 1 in 10 adults. It’s a non-infectious skin condition that is usually chronic, as there is no permanent cure for it, but it tends to get better with time – as children get older, the condition is likely to improve and for some, it may even go away completely. In other cases, it can clear up for a period of time and resurface again in the future. For children with severe eczema, there is a chance that the condition will carry on to their adulthood.
Atopic eczema cannot be rooted down to one specific cause as many different factors can determine whether or not someone develops it – it can be caused by factors such as genetics, family history, and environmental factors. It is common for eczema to develop in people who are sensitive to allergies – atopic refers to the tendency to develop allergies such as asthma, allergic rhinitis, and in this case, eczema. Genetics can also cause atopic eczema, as children who suffer from it may have inherited a gene variation from parents that stops the skin from offering protection from infection, irritants, and allergens, thus triggering the symptoms of atopic eczema e.g., dry and inflamed skin.
The signs and symptoms of atopic eczema will vary from person to person as, for instance, it may only affect some children in certain patches or areas of skin, whilst for others, the whole body may be affected. For children, the most common body parts affected by eczema are the hands, insides of elbows, backs of knees, face, cheeks, and scalp – but it can affect any part of the skin. Eczema will typically appear as red patches on babies with light skin, and brown, purple, or grayish patches on babies with dark skin.
Common signs/symptoms typically include:
- Dry, sensitive skin
- Cracked/scaly skin
- Sore skin
- Inflamed skin
- Red, brown, purple, and/or grey patches of skin
- Small, raised bumps
- Swollen skin
- Thickened skin
There are certain factors that may trigger or worsen the symptoms of eczema, so it’s important to identify and avoid these triggers:
- Irritants – Certain ingredients, chemicals, and products can cause eczema to flare up – everyday household products such as soap, detergent, shampoo, and perfume.
- Hot water – Hot water can cause the skin to become dry and inflamed, so lukewarm or cool water should be used instead when having a shower or a bath.
- Environmental factors – The environment can also be a trigger as, for instance, when radiators are used during winter, this can dry out the air which can worsen eczema.
- Allergies – Food allergies such as peanuts, milk, eggs, and soya, as well as other allergies such as pollen, dust mites, and animal fur, can also trigger a flare up.
- Stress – Stress can make eczema worse as the body releases hormones that can cause skin irritation.
- Materials – Certain clothing or fabric materials can irritate the skin e.g., wool, polyester, and nylon.
- Sweat – Sweat is another trigger for eczema for various reasons i.e., it can dry out the skin, the salt in sweat can irritate the skin, and/or the build up of sweat can cause the skin to overheat.
Although there is no permanent cure for atopic eczema, there are treatments that can help and may be prescribed/recommended by a doctor depending on a variety of factors such as age and the severity of the condition:
- Emollients – These are moisturising treatments that protect and rehydrate the skin. Emollients should be used every day in order to prevent the skin from drying out.
- Topical Corticosteroids – These are creams/ointments that ease eczema symptoms and reduce inflammation, also reducing swelling and redness.
- Antihistamines – These are anti-allergy medications that may ease symptoms such as itching.
This is a method of treating eczema that is said to reduce flare ups by preventing moisture loss from the skin:
Step 1: Take a bath with lukewarm water for 5 – 10 minutes
Step 2: After having a bath, pat the skin lightly with a towel but leave it feeling damp
Step 3: Apply any prescription cream or ointment to the skin as required
Step 4: Apply moisturiser all over the body within 3 minutes
Step 5: Allow the moisturiser to be absorbed by the skin before getting dressed or applying wet wraps
Tips for Caring for Children with Eczema
- Ensure that all skincare/bathing products are suitable for their skin – these should be free from fragrance
- Avoid extreme temperatures – avoid situations where they might become overheated and baths/showers should be with lukewarm or cool water
- Avoid scrubbing the skin when bathing them
- Keep their nails short to reduce damage caused by scratching/itching
- Identify allergies or any irritants that may worsen their eczema, and try to avoid these
- Try to dress them in clothes that are breathable, and avoid materials that may irritate the skin such as wool or synthetic materials
- They should drink plenty of water throughout the day as this will help with preventing moisture loss
- Avoid stressful situations for them and find ways to help them deal with stress when necessary