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Eczema

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Information about childhood eczema - the symptoms, treatment and prevention

Eczema is a long-term, inflammatory skin condition which is marked by patches of itchy, red, flaking skin. It can affect any part of the body, but is most common on the face, neck and bends of the elbows and knees.

The most common form is atopic eczema (dermatitis) – atopic means it is an allergic condition like asthma and hay fever.

If you think your child has eczema or another skin condition, always speak to your paediatrician to work together on a treatment plan.

How to tell if your child has eczema

The rash caused by eczema might look like dry, thickened, scaly skin, or it might be red and raw with tiny red bumps that weep or ooze and become infected if scratched.

This rash can come and go and isn't itself contagious, but because the rash is usually very itchy and uncomfortable your child is likely to scratch which can cause the rash to become infected.

The skin infection can become infectious.

Children with eczema often have a lot of areas of dry skin.

Who can get it?

1 in 5 children and 1 in 12 adults in the UK are affected by eczema and around 90% of eczema occurs before the age of five, often in the first few months of life.

The precise cause of atopic eczema is unknown but may be due to a problem with the immune response in the skin, which becomes dry and prone to cracking and infection.

It often runs in families and is found in children who have other allergic conditions such as asthma and hay fever.

Half of children affected by eczema will be almost clear of it by the age of six and three-quarters will be free of it by the time they are teenagers, but occasional flare-ups are still possible in adults.

Treatment and prevention

There is no simple cure for eczema, but your dermatologist will be able to prescribe two main treatments – emollients (or thick moisturisers) to stop the skin from becoming dry and steroid creams or ointment which reduce swelling and redness.

Emollients work by trapping moisture in the skin so it's less likely to get dry and infected. They can be used on the skin as a cream or ointment, also as a soap substitute or in the bath instead of soap or body wash.

They can be used frequently and often several times a day, as per how dry the skin is and they have no long-term side effects.

Steroid creams and ointments work by damping down the inflammation caused by the allergic reaction. They come in different strengths with hydrocortisone being the weakest.

They are often used only once a day and no more than twice daily. Your dermatologist will advise you how often and how long they should be used for. Always apply cream as thinly as possible as they can make the skin thin if used too often.

What can I do to help?

In many children who have eczema there is no one reason why it flares up from time to time. However, avoiding some of the possible causes or triggers listed below can help:

  • Soaps, bubble bath, baby wipes
  • Pets
  • Extremes of temperature
  • Clothing
  • Dust mites
  • Infections
  • Stress
  • Food allergy

For more information visit the National Eczema Society.

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