Eczema (also known as atopic dermatitis) is a long-term (chronic) condition that causes the skin to become itchy, red, dry and cracked. It usually affects younger children but most will be clear of it by the age of seven, although it may sometimes continue into adulthood. Eczema usually appears on the areas where we have folds of skin, including behind the knees and inside the elbows, around the neck, and around the ears and eyes. It sometimes appears on the hands and feet.
Eczema is generally stable, but symptoms become worse during a 'flare-up' and you may find that your child's skin is hot, red and itchy and may be weeping or swollen. You may also find that certain things trigger these 'flares' such as hot temperatures, wearing synthetic fabrics or bathing with certain soaps. Keeping your child's skin cool and avoiding these triggers may help reduce flare-ups.
The cause of eczema is not clear, but it often affects people who get asthma or allergies such as hay fever. It can also run in families. If someone develops eczema later in life it may be a symptom of allergic dermatitis, so finding the cause of the allergy will be important to its treatment.
Treating eczema Eczema usually goes away as the child grows older with 65% of children being clear of it by the time they're 16. Things that may help manage the symptoms of eczema include avoiding perfumed soaps and shower gels. Scratching can worsen the symptoms and cause infection, so it's important to avoid this also. Moisturising the affected skin several times a day using an emollient is also helpful. An emollient is a cream that moisturises your skin and prevents it from losing moisture. It also helps to soften the skin and reduce itching. Sun exposure can also help reduce eczema, but it's important to also protect the skin to prevent it from burning or sun damage.
If the eczema is caused by an allergy then it's important to find the cause and eliminate or reduce it. In some cases, antihistamines may help the allergy. Using a humidifier and synthetic pillows and duvets can also help to keep your environment free from dust and mould.
For more severe cases of eczema there are several treatment choices depending on the cause and severity. In some cases, our dermatologists may prescribe a steroid cream. These can have side effects, which may include thinning of the skin, so our dermatologist will discuss this treatment with you in detail to minimise any effects.
Antibiotics are rarely needed, but steroid ointments mixed with antibiotics may help. Your dermatologist may also suggest using an antibacterial oil or cream in the bath. In cases of very severe eczema a course of UVB light treatment in hospital may be recommended. And in some cases, an immunosuppressant may be prescribed.
Whatever the cause of the eczema, it's important to speak to one of our dermatologists. Without the right treatment eczema may cause long-term damage to the skin, particularly in children with dark skin. Our dermatologists will examine your child's skin, discuss their symptoms and family history with you, together with assessing any allergies, and will offer you the best treatment for your child.