Eczema in Children: Causes, Signs, Treatment & Home Remedies

Eczema in Children

Medically Reviewed By
Dr. Rashmi Sriram (Dermatologist)
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Eczema is a common problem in young children and babies. Approximately a fifth of the world’s children under five years suffer from some type of eczema. It is a skin disease characterised by rashes and itchiness that can be very uncomfortable. This article will help you understand eczema, its causes, symptoms and treatment methods.

What Is Eczema?

Eczema or Dermatitis is a class of skin diseases that result in skin inflammation. It affects around 250 million people a year worldwide. However, it is not contagious, so there is no fear of contracting the condition through physical contact. The most common forms of eczema are atopic dermatitis, contact dermatitis, seborrheic dermatitis, and stasis dermatitis. Here, the focus is on atopic dermatitis, which mostly affects children.

How Common Is It in Children?

A little girl applying ointment on her rashes

Eczema is usually prevalent in very young children, but teenagers and older people can get it as well. Around 70% of all patients will have experienced the condition before they turn a year old and 25% more by the age of five. One of the factors that increase the risk of developing the disorder is the predilection towards allergy diseases such as hay fever, asthma and so on.

Causes of Eczema in Kids

The specific causes of eczema are unknown, but there are a few things that can worsen it or cause a flare-up:

1. Genetic Conditions

Parents or family having eczema or other skin conditions increases the likelihood of the child acquiring it.

2. Environmental Factors

Eczema rashes can be worsened by heat, smoke, dust, cold, humidity and so on.

3. Stress

Studies show that stress, anxiety and depressive symptoms show a positive correlation with eczema flare-ups.

4. Allergens

Items like pollen, certain foods, chemicals in creams, lotions, shampoos, and so on, may set off allergic reactions and aggravate eczema. It has been found that around 40% of children with eczema are allergic to some food or the other.

Signs and Symptoms

The symptoms of eczema in kids vary with time, sometimes being extreme while other times being mild or non-existent:

  • Red or brown dry, thickened and scaly skin is the most common symptom. They can occasionally be composed of closely-spaced raised red boils that ooze liquid.
  • These rashes are extremely itchy, causing the child to pick at them constantly. This could lead to scarring or darkening of the affected skin.
  • Rashes appear on the face and scalp in babies, whereas in toddlers they present themselves in elbow crooks and behind the knees.

Diagnosing Eczema in a Child

As the symptoms of eczema differ with the child and his age, it can be difficult to perform a diagnosis. It is quite easy to confuse it with other skin-related illnesses such as psoriasis. However, if the dermatologist suspects eczema, he/she will perform the following steps.

  • Perform an examination of the size, colour and area covered by the rash.
  • Ask about the period of time that the rash has been around.
  • Try to identify a phenomenon known as lichenification, which is the thickening of the skin due to friction or scratching.
  • Recommend that the child meets with a  dermatologist for a more comprehensive diagnosis.
  • Ask about the child’s medical history, especially about any allergies or skin diseases experienced by the child or close family members.

Treatment for Child Eczema

Eczema remedies for kids are prescribed to provide some relief from the irritation and make kids comfortable. Use of PH-friendly soap and moisturiser is the basis of the treatment. Any specific medicine and dose will change based on the severity and extension of eczema, and it should only be employed under a doctor’s guidance.

1. Topical Steroid Ointments

The most recommended eczema cream for kids is hydrocortisone, a corticosteroid which helps in obtaining relief from the constant itch. Please be careful when applying this cream as it can cause the skin to become thinner if applied in excess.

2. Topical Immunotherapy Agents

These are free of steroid and are used to reduce the extent of skin inflammation. They are efficient for younger toddlers and babies.

3. Oral Antihistamine Drugs

These come in tablet form and can calm the rash and itchiness, especially if the causative agent was an allergen.

4. Oral Steroids

Similar to the topical versions, these are great for older children. However, they are very rarely recommended for young kids, as they might cause serious health complications.

5. Antibiotics

These are broad-spectrum antibiotics usually prescribed if a secondary infection develops.

Home Remedies for Eczema in Babies

While steroid creams and antihistamines work, there are several natural remedies for eczema in children. However, experts suggest that home remedies are best avoided as they can cause flare-ups in atopic dermatitis. Please consult your doctor before employing any of the following methods to treat your child.

1. Turmeric Paste

Turmeric is antibacterial and has been used for skin problems for thousands of years. Turmeric mixed with milk, coconut oil or rose water can be applied to the rash directly.

2. Curd

Curd and yoghurt are healthy for the skin, especially due to the presence of lactic acid, a very mild exfoliant that can calm the skin. Further, the healthy (probiotic) bacteria in curd have been known to prevent harmful bacterial infection.

3. Oats

Rich in Vitamin E, an essential ingredient for healthy skin, oats also contain a whole host of powerful antioxidants and minerals that are great for the skin. If your doctor recommends, you may apply a paste made from powdered oats and honey or curd.

4. Plant Oil

Moisturising dry skin is one way to calm eczema rashes. Several herbal oils are available for this purpose. They include flaxseed oil, jojoba oil, olive oil, and so on. Certain essential oils are also helpful, but care must be taken to dilute them with a base oil before using.

5. Grape Seed

Grape seeds are known to have anti-inflammatory and antipathogenic properties that help calm the rash as well as the itchy sensation. You can crush them, mix them in curd and apply the paste on the rash.

6. Sandalwood Paste

Another ancient skin care regimen, the application of sandalwood paste on eczema has shown to have a calming effect on irritated skin. You can make a mixture of powdered sandalwood with rosewater for application.

7. Sea salt

Mixing a bit of sea salt in warm water, then spraying the solution on the rash has been known to soothe the dry skin. You can also use a cotton swab to dab the mixture on the skin. Salt is also efficient at disinfecting any wounds or cuts.

8. Aloe Vera

Aloe vera is universally loved for its healing properties. Aloe vera gel can be mixed with honey and applied on the rash.

As informed earlier, you should speak to your doctor before using any of these home remedies to avoid eczema flare-ups in your child.

How Long Does Eczema Last in Children?

Eczema symptoms can come and go as your children get older. It usually reduces itself by the age of twelve, but sometimes can be a lifelong condition.

Are there any Foods That Cause Eczema in a Child?

Certain foods have been implicated in exacerbating eczema symptoms. Some of them include milk, eggs, shellfish, soy, gluten, wheat, and groundnuts. If your child has eczema, try feeding them different foods to pinpoint the food that is causing the allergy. Switch over to a hypoallergenic baby formula if necessary. Further, research shows that pregnant women who consumed a lot of vegetable oil have babies with an increased chance of eczema. Institute an eczema diet plan for kids which categorically avoids any food item which is potentially allergenic.

What Should You Do If Your Child’s Rash Doesn’t Get Better?

The first thing to do is to consult your child’s dermatologist. If the prescribed medications don’t work, the doctor might recommend a stronger dose. It is important to inform your doctor of any strange symptoms like fever, infection, oozing rashes, crusty skin and so on.

How to Prevent Eczema in Your Child

There are a few ways to reduce the likelihood of eczema occurring. Some of them are:

  • Ensure you tell your child not to touch the rash. This could worsen it and potentially cause a dangerous infection.
  • Keep your little one away from potential irritants like dust, animal hair, scented soaps and shampoos, rough fabrics, and so on.
  • Avoid allergenic triggers like certain foods, pollen, bed bugs, and so on.
  • Don’t bathe your child in water hotter than room temperature as this could worsen the rash.
  • Moisturise your little one religiously with fragrance-free lotions or creams.
  • Help your child stay calm and relaxed by removing stressors in their environment.
  • Keep them away from excess heat, which can aggravate eczema, especially if they sweat.

Things to Remember

There are a few things you need to do as a parent to help your child deal with this condition and have a comfortable life:

  • Ensure that their personal hygiene levels are high. Bathe them regularly and have them change their clothes at least twice a day.
  • Clip their fingernails, so there’s less damage while scratching it.
  • You can distract them from the irritation by occupying their minds in other ways. Massage their faces, back and legs gently to get them to fall asleep.
  • Employ a wet, cold washcloth or an ice pack wrapped in a soft handkerchief as a cold compress to relieve the itching.
  • Cover up the itchy skin in loose clothing made of fabrics like pure cotton or blends. Avoid woollen and synthetic materials.

Aside from all these precautions, it is crucial that your child receives a balanced diet consisting of leafy greens, brightly coloured fruits, certain nuts, whole grain cereals and so on. With support and nurturing, there is no reason why your child with eczema can’t lead a comfortable, healthy life.

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