Most children get rashes or dry patches on their skin, but eczema is an itchy rash that becomes worse on scratching. Learn more about what causes eczema and how you can treat it.

Eczema, also called atopic dermatitis, is a skin condition that tends to appear in a child’s first five years of life. It typically shows up as a rash on the forehead, cheeks and scalp, but it can spread to the chest, arms, legs, or other parts of the body. The rash may have the appearance of tiny red bumps that can blister or ooze, or it might look like thick, dry skin that is scaly. Eczema isn’t contagious, but one of its most distressing symptoms is itchiness, which can lead to scratching. The scratching can infect the affected areas of skin by leading to infections.

What causes eczema?

There doesn’t appear to be one single causative factor for eczema, but it seems that there is an inherited component, as children who develop the condition are more likely to have a family member who is affected by it as well.  Eczema often goes through cycles where it can become aggravated and then go into remission. It can be triggered by allergens in your toddler’s diet or environment, with the rash also be aggravated by heat and irritants that come into contact with their skin. Typical irritants are the chemicals found in some soaps, lotions and detergents.

How common is eczema in children?

It is estimated that around one in five infants and young children develop eczema, with 65 percent of patients developing symptoms in their first year and 90 percent developing symptoms before they reach the age of 5. Of those with the condition, about 60 percent of cases will carry on into adulthood.

Treatment for eczema

Treatment for eczema is predominantly about keeping the skin moisturised to prevent it drying out, which can cause it to crack and become painful.

  • Many experts now believe that bathing on a daily basis can be helpful for children with eczema. When bathing your child, use lukewarm water, as bathwater with a higher temperature can dry their skin out more quickly.
  • Use a mild soap or washing lotion that contains no harmful chemicals that can irritate your child’s skin. Perfumed soaps should be avoided.
  • Make sure that you rinse your child properly at the end of their bath so that there is no soapy residue left on their skin.
  • After the bath, don’t rub your child’s skin dry, as friction from the towel can aggravate eczema. Instead, gently pat them dry.
  • Once they are dry, use a moisturiser or emollient cream to help lock in your child’s body’s own moisture.
  • Try to keep your child’s nails short to prevent damage to their skin through scratching. Use cotton mittens or socks on their hands when putting them to bed to avoid nocturnal scratching (if they can tolerate them).
  • Dress your child in loose clothing made from natural fabrics, like cotton, as these will allow their skin to breathe and remain cool. Avoid nylon, wool and other scratchy fabrics, which can irritate sensitive skin.
  • Try not to let your child get too hot and then cool quickly, or vice versa, as rapid fluctuations in temperature can make exacerbate.
  • Speak to your doctor about using an antihistamine if your child has problems sleeping at because of the itching.

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