Chronic, severe eczema can have a serious impact on a child – both physically and emotionally.

Apart from the obvious symptoms of red, itchy skin, eczema can interfere with your little one’s sleep and could lead to teasing and bullying at school. It can furthermore affect concentration and lead to chronic skin infections.

There’s a strong genetic link, but experts believe pollution, toxins and allergies could also trigger the condition. Although eczema affects all ages, it usually appears in early childhood and disappears when a child reaches the age of six, according to the Eczema Association of Australasia. In fact, they report, “more than half of all eczema sufferers show signs within their first 12 months of life and 20% develop eczema before the age of five”.

Your might have a treatment regime for your child, prescribed by a doctor. But what can you as a parent do to help him avoid things that irritate the skin?

    • Let your child bath in lukewarm water for 10 minutes once a day.

    • Don’t use bubble bath, and use aqueous or an oil-based cream instead of soap (note that some children don’t respond well to aqueous cream). If it foams, your child should avoid it because the product breaks down the normal layer of oil on the skin. Pat your child dry with a towel, but don’t rub.

    • Moisturise the skin with fragrance- and colour-free creams that are rich in oil and have a vitamin E base. Do this at least twice a day and always immediately after bathing.

    • Avoid dressing your child in woollen clothing and steer clear of bed linen that’s too warm – the warmer the skin, the more it itches. Wool and nylon are more likely to irritate the skin.

    • Keep your child’s nails short so they can’t break the skin when scratching. A cold compress – ice in a watertight plastic bag, knotted and wrapped in a towel – can help relieve the itching.

    • Stop smoking if you do. Adults should never smoke near or in the same house as children with eczema.

    • If the child plays sport regularly, make sure they wear comfortable, cool, loose cotton clothes. They’ll sweat less and it will minimise friction. Apply moisturiser just before exercise, and get them to take a bath as soon as possible afterwards. Moisturiser should be applied again.

    • Keep your child’s lifestyle as normal as possible in order to avoid stress. They can swim, but use moisturiser beforehand and rinse and moisturise them again afterwards. Salt-water pools are preferable to chlorine pools.

    • Don’t use biodegradable washing powders or fabric softeners because they contain enzymes that can aggravate eczema. After washing your child’s clothes, rinse them in vinegar water. Washing your child’s clothes with special soap powder is pointless if you’re going to hug him when you’re wearing clothes that have been washed in ordinary soap powder, so wash the whole family’s clothes with non-biological washing powder.

    • Get rid of the dust mites in soft toys or baby linen by placing them in your deep freeze for three days every three months. Wash these items regularly in water heated to at least 60 degrees Celsius. Place a special protective cover over your child’s mattress to keep dust mites at bay and regularly put the mattress in the sun. Use a powerful vacuum cleaner. Those that use water are often recommended for dust mites.

Need more information? Contact the Eczema Association of Australasia by sending an email to [email protected].