Part of the information is from UpToDate.com, but has been extensively revised by Dr. Shaham.
What is eczema? — Eczema is a skin condition that makes your skin itchy and flaky. Doctors do not know what causes it. Eczema often happens in people who have allergies. Another term for eczema is “atopic dermatitis.”
What are the symptoms of eczema? — The symptoms of eczema can include: intense itching (even before the rash starts), redness, rough patches of skin, small bumps, skin that flakes or skin that forms scales.
What can I do to reduce my symptoms? — Use unscented thick moisturizing creams (ointments preferred) to keep the skin from getting too dry. Also, try to avoid things that can make eczema worse, such as: being too hot or sweating too much, very dry air, stress, sudden temperature changes, harsh soaps or cleaning products, perfumes, wool or synthetic fabrics (like polyester), things that you may be allergic to (often foods for infants or pets for older kids).
Bathing Tips— Use warm water for bathing and washing hands. Use a mild, non-drying cleanser that is fragrance-free, dye-free, and allergy tested. Avoid body sponges and washcloths (friction can make the skin worse). Gently pat skin dry with a towel, do not rub the skin. Kids with frequent eczema flares or infections can benefit from bleach baths, but ask your pediatrician first if this treatment should be used for your child.
Moisturizing Tips— Apply any special skin medications prescribed for you and then liberally apply a moisturizer. Use a moisturizer within 3 minutes of getting out of the bath, to lock in the moisture. Re-apply moisturizer throughout the day, whenever your skin feels dry or itchy. Regular petroleum jelly works very well for this. A recent study showed applying petroleum jelly 3 times a day to infants who had a family history of eczema helped prevent eczema in those babies.
More Tips— Use dye-free and fragrance-free detergents. Use an extra rinse cycle on laundry to get rid of any soap remnants. Keep fingernails short to avoid scratching. Consider weekly bleach baths if the eczema gets infected often. Check out www.eczemacenter.org and the national eczema association for more information and videos.
How is eczema treated? — There are treatments that can relieve the symptoms of eczema. But the condition cannot be cured. Even so, about half of children with eczema grow out of it by the time they become adults. The treatments for eczema include:
- Moisturizing creams or ointments – These products help keep your skin moist. An ointment (such as aquaphor or vaseline) can be soothing, lock-in the moisture and act as a barrier to environmental allergens. Other lotions (such as Cetaphil) help repair your skin’s barrier. These need to be applied at least 3 times per day!
- Steroid creams and ointments – These medicines are different than the steroids athletes take to build muscle. They go on the skin, and they relieve itching, redness, and inflammation. (In severe cases, you may need to take steroids by mouth, but only under physician supervision).
- Antihistamine pills – Antihistamines are the medicines people take for allergies and also relieve itching. Many people find that itching is worst at night, which can make it hard to sleep. If you have this problem, talk with your doctor or nurse about it. He or she might recommend an antihistamine that can also help with sleep, such as Children’s Benadryl (aka diphenhydramine HCl).