Normal healthy skin acts like a protective barrier that prevents water from getting out and keeps outside agents such as irritants or bacteria from getting in. When you have eczema, your skin barrier function is decreased, which makes your skin more susceptible to irritants, allergens and bacteria. Children with eczema have dry, red, itchy skin which usually occurs in the skin folds of the elbows and knees, wrists, ankles and neck.

Eczema is also called “atopic dermatitis” because children with eczema are at high risk of developing allergic diseases such as hay fever, food allergies and asthma.

What causes eczema?

There seems to be a strong genetic link to eczema, and the major genes involved in eczema are responsible for the structural proteins that maintain the skin barrier. An inadequate skin barrier makes it very susceptible to water loss, further impairing the barrier function and allowing entry of irritants, allergens and bacteria. The immune system reacts to these substances, leading to inflammation and itching of the skin.

Will my child always have eczema?

If your child suffers from eczema, it is very likely that they will grow out of it—around 75 percent of sufferers grow out of it by their mid-teens, although their skin will retain the tendency to be dry and they may remain prone to getting eczema on their hands throughout their adult years.

Tips & treatments

For dry skin: Eczema is primarily a disease of dry skin, and keeping the skin moist daily can prevent many of the problems associated with eczema. At least twice a day, apply a greasy ointment such as Eucerin, Aquaphor or Vaseline to keep the skin barrier intact.

For the bath: Soap can dry the skin out and make eczema worse. Use mild soaps without fragrances and avoid bubble baths. Immediately following the bath, pat the skin dry to leave a little moisture and apply a greasy ointment over the still wet skin to lock in the moisture.

For the pool: Before swimming, apply a thick moisturizer to the skin. After swimming, shower or bathe to remove chlorine and reapply moisturizer.

For scratching: Praise children when they don’t scratch their eczema and trim their nails regularly so that when they do scratch their skin, the damage they cause is minimal. Teach children to pat or pinch their skin when it itches rather than scratch. You can also give an antihistamine like Benadryl to help with scratching at night.

For a rash: Your pediatrician can prescribe an anti-inflammatory steroid ointment to be applied to the inflamed areas of the skin. Be sure to apply the steroid ointment first and then the moisturizer afterwards.

Editor’s Note: UofL Today reprints To Your Health articles from the “UofL Physicians-Insider” newsletter. Read the entire July Issue (opens as a PDF document). For more information, visit UofL Physicians.