Nathan G. Asher, M.D
Chronic eczema (atopic dermatitis) is one of the most common skin conditions young children experience. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), eczema affects approximately three percent of the youth population.
Eczema is a condition that causes dry, extra-sensitive skin. The symptoms can be different for each person, but typically children and adults will develop a red, extremely itchy rash on flexor surfaces, such as the creases of the elbows, wrists and knees. Other trouble areas can include the neck, ankles and feet. Babies often show the same symptoms, but rashes are located on the outer arms and legs, face or trunk of the body (the chest and back).
Children as young as 2 months old can develop eczema. Some will outgrow the condition by the time they are 2 or 3 years old, however, many will suffer up to adolescence.
Eczema is a cyclical condition, meaning the reaction is also a cause of worsening symptoms. When something irritates the skin, such as harsh detergent, extreme heat, sweating or dry air, the child’s skin becomes red and inflamed. This prompts the child to scratch, which only causes the skin to become more inflamed and even more sensitive to irritants.
Though the exact cause of eczema is unknown, scientists believe that it is the result of a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Triggers are unique to each individual, but common causes are:
Once you know what causes your child’s eczema flare-ups, you can take steps to eliminate the triggers of those uncomfortable rashes. There are also some changes you can make to decrease your child’s discomfort, no matter what his or her trigger is.
Generally, it’s okay to bathe your child every day; however, limiting the amount of time in the water will keep the skin healthier. Do not bathe your child for longer than 10 minutes daily. Children with eczema are very sensitive to harsh soap and bubble baths. For young children, bathing with water alone is sufficient, and teenagers should limit soap to areas that sweat, such as underarms, genitals and feet.
Boys Town Pediatrics advises contacting your child’s physician within 24 hours if the rash becomes raw and open in several places, looks infected or has not significantly improved within seven days of treatment. In the meantime, wash your child’s hands with water frequently to prevent infection.
If your child’s rash looks infected, your child has a fever or if the rash flares up after contact with fever blisters, call your child’s physician immediately.