Understanding Eczema in Children

Eczema in children is on the rise, especially in industrialized countries. It is more common in colder regions than in tropical climates.

Eczema is also known as atopic dermatitis or atopic eczema. The word "eczema" comes from the Greek for "boil over". This skin disorder is literally "an itch that rashes".

Eczema usually starts in childhood. Family history plays a major role in the development of the disease. About 30% to 50% of children who have one parent with eczema will develop the disease.

The risk is higher when the child's mother, rather than the father, has eczema. Between 50% and 80% of children who have both parents affected will go on to develop eczema themselves.

Eczema in children is a frustrating condition for both the child and the parents. The intense itching can cause sleepless nights and psychological distress. There's no doubt that eczema can seriously affect quality of life.

Food allergies and emotional stress can trigger eczema or make it worse. The foods that cause the most problems are cow's milk, eggs, peanut, soy, wheat, seafood and chocolate.

Almost half of the children who have a food sensitivity lose this after 1 to 2 years of avoiding the food in question. About 80% outgrow their food allergies by the time they are 10 years. Sensitivity to shellfish and peanut tends to be more persistent.

Dust mite, pollen, animal hairs and tobacco smoke can make eczema worse. Skin contact with nickel and fragrance (perfume) can also worsen the condition.

Unfortunately, there is no cure for eczema. But it can be controlled with drugs and also by avoiding things that trigger the disease. Good skin care practices also help.

A child with eczema needs to avoid irritants that are contained in many personal care products. This means reducing the use of soaps, washing powders, fabric softeners and perfumed products. It's better not to use soap for bathing.

There are lots of other things you can do to help a child who has eczema.

Dress them in cotton clothes, rather than synthetic or scratchy clothes. Keep the child's environment as cool as possible.

Keep their fingernails short to stop them from scratching. Remove carpets or upholstered furniture or vaccuum them often. Wash bedding frequently.

Don't keep plants or pets in the home. And don't allow smoking at home.

For a child with a family history of eczema, exclusive breastfeeding for the first 4 to 6 months can reduce their risk of developing the disease.

Good skin care practices are essential for a child who has eczema. Bathe them in warm, not hot, water. Pat the skin dry with a towel without rubbing as this can irritate the skin.

Apply a moisturizer within 3 minutes of bathing to replace lost moisture and keep the skin soft. Apply more than once a day to the most affected areas.

Steroid creams are sometimes used to control eczema in children. Like all medications, they can have side effects, especially in children (depigmentation, steroid acne, cataracts and growth retardation are some of the possible side effects).

It's safer to use the lowest strength steroid cream that can do the job. Don't use a high potency cream for more than 3 weeks and don't apply it more than twice a day.

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