What is eczema?
Atopic eczema (the type of eczema that babies and children usually suffer from) is an itchy, inflammatory skin condition. It’s more common in children, with between 70 and 90% of cases occurring before five years of age, and most cases developing before the child’s first birthday. However, atopic eczema may also develop for the first time in adults.
Eczema isn’t contagious, so your child didn’t catch it, and they can’t pass it onto anyone else.
It’s a chronic condition, which means that your child will likely have it for the long term, and there is no known cure.
However, ‘chronic’ doesn’t mean that it will never improve – in fact some children eventually grow out of eczema entirely. And whilst there is no real cure for atopic eczema, there are many treatments that can significantly improve the appearance and symptoms of the condition.
What’s the medical term for eczema?
The medical term for atopic eczema is atopic dermatitis. This is the most common type of eczema in the general population and is particularly prevalent in children.
What are the symptoms of eczema?
The main symptom of eczema is dry, itchy skin. Other symptoms include inflammation, bumps and scales. These can often leak clear or yellowish fluid, which then crusts over.
Patches of inflamed skin due to eczema tend to look red on lighter skin, and are often brown, purple or a greyish colour on darker skin. The inflamed patches aren’t often as noticeable on people of colour.
The dry, scaly patches may be small and confined to one area or cover large areas of the body.
It’s typical for people with atopic eczema to experience ‘flare-ups.’ These are periods when symptoms become more severe. These flare-ups may occur as often as two or three times each month.
It’s also common for symptoms to be worse at night, particularly in children, who may struggle to sleep due to extreme itching.
What ages are most likely to have eczema?
Eczema is more common in children than adults, often developing in the first year of life. It tends to reach a peak of intensity between the ages of two and four years old.
Whilst most people outgrow atopic dermatitis by the time they are teenagers, it can persist into adulthood. For others, childhood eczema that had cleared up years prior may re-emerge.
What parts of the body do children get eczema?
Atopic eczema can affect any part of the body, but in children it most often affects the hands, face, scalp, and creases on inner elbows and knees.
Eczema tends to affect babies and children differently depending on their age. Read our blog on how to tell if your baby has eczema here. We’ll list the classic symptoms of eczema by age below:
Symptoms of eczema in young babies (under six months)
If your baby is under six months old, eczema is likely to be most noticeable on their face, particularly their cheeks, forehead and chin. The skin looks red and weepy at this young age. As babies tend to dribble a lot, the area around their chin can become quite sore.
The rash can spread to other areas of your baby’s body, and seborrheic dermatitis (cradle cap) can also appear on the scalp.
Symptoms of eczema in older babies (between six and twelve months)
If your older baby is suffering from eczema, the worst affected areas are likely to be their knees and elbows.
Babies usually learn to crawl between six and twelve months of age, and these areas suffer from friction – rubbing along the floor as your baby moves. Due to this repeated friction, it’s fairly common for the rash to become infected, often forming a yellowish crust.
Symptoms of eczema in toddlers and young children (under five years old)
In toddlers, atopic dermatitis tends to present as red patches with small bumps, frequently affecting the face – particularly the mouth and eyelids.
It’s also common for skin around the creases in elbows, knees, wrists and ankles to look quite dry and scaly. The skin can become so dry that cracks begin to appear, and these can become infected. This thickening of skin is called ‘lichenification’.
Children aged five years and older
Eczema in older children tends to be less noticeable. Often, only their hands will be affected. If eczema does appear elsewhere on their body, it’s often characterised by itchy, red patches behind ears, feet, and sometimes on the scalp.
In relation to the scalp, many people mistakenly believe that cradle cap (seborrheic dermatitis) only affects infants. In fact, people of any age can suffer from this condition, it’s just more common in babies.
Do genetics cause eczema?
Studies by the National Eczema Association show that people of all skin colours, races and ethnicities can be affected by eczema. The percentages of each ethnic background who suffer from eczema are listed below.
- White – 11%
- African American / Black – 10%
- Asian or Pacific Islander – 13%
- Native American – 13%
There has been a great deal of research into the cause of eczema, which shows that it appears to be caused by a combination of both genetic and environmental factors. Evidence of mutations in several genes were found in multiple studies, and these mutations may determine the likelihood of eczema developing.
A child with a parent or sibling who has eczema will have a much greater chance of also developing the condition. However, a family history of eczema does not guarantee that your child will have it too.
Eczema is not solely caused by genetics, though. Environmental factors such as diet, detergents and soaps are also a determining element in whether or not your child will develop the condition.
Is eczema gender-related?
Whilst eczema can equally affect boys and girls, a study by doctors at Southampton University Hospital has shown that the condition is gender related.
The study, which was published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, showed that a child’s risk of developing an allergic disease such as asthma or eczema doubles if a parent of the same sex has suffered from it.
Maternal eczema was shown to lead to a 50% increased risk of eczema in girls, whilst paternal eczema led to the same level of increased risk for eczema in boys.
How is eczema diagnosed?
There is no specific test that is used to diagnose your child with eczema. Your GP will take a look at the rash and ask about their symptoms, past health, and previous history of atopic conditions within the family.
After ruling out other inflammatory skin conditions, your GP may refer you to a dermatologist or sometimes an allergist.
You may be asked to eliminate some foods from your child’s diet. These can include eggs, milk, soy or nuts, for example. They might also ask you to try changing your washing detergent or soap, to see if your child is having a reaction to a product that you’re using.
Times of the year when eczema can get worse
It’s common for eczema to improve in the summer months due to exposure to sunlight and get worse in the winter when the weather is cold and damp. Central heating can also cause your child’s skin to dry out faster than usual.
During the winter months, it’s especially important to take preventative measures such as moisturising your child’s skin and dressing them in eczema friendly clothing.
Medical treatments for eczema in children
If you’ve tried to identify and avoid skin irritants, ensured that your child avoids extreme temperatures and kept their skin moisturised, with little success in treating their eczema, you should visit your GP if you haven’t already.
There are a range of prescription medications to treat eczema in children, and we’ll discuss them all here.
Emollients, steroids and antibiotics
Your doctor will often prescribe emollients as the first-line treatments for eczema during both acute flares and remissions of the condition.
Another often used treatment is topical steroids, which should be considered for red, inflamed skin. As topical steroid use has several potential side effects, it’s best to use the lowest strength and amount of topical corticosteroid necessary to control your child’s symptoms.
Severe itching is a huge problem for many eczema sufferers. If your child is suffering from persistent itching, your doctor may prescribe a trial of a non-sedative antihistamine. If the itching is affecting their sleep, a short course of sedating antihistamines may be considered.
Oral corticosteroids might be prescribed in the case of severe, extensive eczema, which covers a large area of your child’s body. And if the eczema is weeping or crusted, your GP may prescribe antibiotics, particularly if your child has a fever.
Therapies for eczema in children
As well as prescription medications, there are several therapies that can be used to treat children with eczema. Let’s take a look at the most effective ones.
Wet wraps for eczema
If your child is suffering from a particularly severe eczema flare-up with relentless itching or pain, you could try using wet wrap therapy.
Wet wraps work by rehydrating and calming the skin and can also help topical medications work better.
Parents who use wet wraps generally use them in the evening, after their child has had a bath. They apply topical steroids or creams to their child’s still damp skin, and wrap clean, damp bandages over the top. They then put dry bandages over the damp ones and dress their child for bed.
Whilst fairly effective, wet wraps can be very uncomfortable to sleep in, and applying them is a very messy, time-consuming process. They can also cause your child to be too cold, due to sleeping in wet bandages, or too hot, due to sleeping in multiple layers.
Your dermatologist can show you how to apply wet wraps at home if you’d like to try this treatment.
Light therapy for eczema
Light therapy is often used for people with eczema whose skin does not improve with topical treatments, or whose skin tends to flare up again soon afterwards.
Light therapy for eczema, also known as phototherapy, involves exposing your child’s skin to controlled amounts of UVA or UVB rays. This can be done alone, or in combination with other medications.
It’s important to talk to your doctor about the pros and cons of light therapy. It can have some harmful effects, which include premature skin aging and a greater risk of skin cancer. It’s therefore not commonly used in infants, but can be an effective treatment in older children.
Counselling, relaxation and behaviour modification
Your child’s skin condition may cause them to feel embarrassed or frustrated, and it could help them to talk with a counsellor about how they are feeling.
There are also various relaxation and behaviour modification therapies that may be helpful for children who scratch habitually.
HappySkin clothing for children with eczema
HappySkin is a clothing range coated with DreamSkin technology.
This unique coating technology soothes and protects your child’s dry, sensitive, eczema-prone skin. It does this by taking over the role of healthy skin – prompting the skin to regulate moisture levels and therefore normalising the skin’s functionality once more thus controlling your child’s temperature once again, so it’s not too hot or too cold.
Combined with the fact that HappySkin eczema clothing doesn’t have any annoying seams to cause friction, this keeps children more comfortable during the day and, of course, during the night, when they will sleep much more soundly!
Additionally, the special Dreamskin coating on HappySkin clothing forms a protective layer. This prevents irritants, such as those found in laundry detergents, from sticking to the fabric and aggravating your child’s sensitive skin.
Unlike wet wraps, HappySkin is not messy and so time consuming to use and of course is comfortable to wear. Compared to standard treatments using creams, HappySkin garments are quick and easy to use, taking no time at all – simply get your child dressed in their HappySkin garments instead of their usual clothes. And unlike traditional medication, HappySkin clothing can be purchased without a visit to the doctor.
More importantly, there is never any danger of overdosing. In fact, keep your child in their HappySkin garments as long as possible, as you never know when a flare-up will reoccur.
All HappySkin clothing is completely natural with no strong chemicals. It’s vegan-friendly and cruelty free and is packaged in fully recyclable materials.
For more information about HappySkin clothing, please do not hesitate to contact our team by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.