It has been called the “itch that rashes”. It is one of the most common pediatric rashes, affecting nearly 12.5% of kids aged 0-17 years old. It’s that rash that is very dry, sometimes scaly, and intensely itchy. It most commonly starts on the facial cheeks of infants and the folds of arms and legs for younger kids, but can ultimately develop anywhere on the body. It is more commonly found in individuals or in families affected by asthma, food allergies, and/or seasonal allergies. We are talking about that ever-so-irritating (literally) skin condition called eczema (or atopic dermatitis, as your nerdy pediatrician refers to it).
Eczema is a chronic condition. Unfortunately, this means it is NOT a “here’s a prescription and you’re cured” kind of disease. Think of it like asthma or migraine headaches – some days you have problems and other days you don’t. Just like with these other diseases, there are things that can trigger flare ups and things that are helpful in preventing flare ups.
Eczema Triggers in Children
We know eczema sufferers’ skin is terrible at retaining moisture. For this reason, anything that dries out skin will typically be a trigger for eczema. We routinely see a lot more itchy eczema sufferers during the fall and winter as the cold, dry air moves in. Eczema sufferers also know that they likely can’t use that tropical smelling lotion from Bath and Body Works (as pineapple-y-amazing as it may smell). In fact, fragrance-containing skin care products and detergents are big time triggers of eczema. Some eczema sufferers may also learn over time that there are other things that can trigger eczema just by touching it – like wool clothing. Sometimes certain foods and even pollen can be triggers.
- Moisturize. Moisturize. Moist-u-rize. Head to toe. Daily. Even 2, 3 or 4 times daily. This cannot be emphasized enough! Specifically, be sure you are using a moisturizer that is fragrance-free and is in cream form (NO lotions). Creams contain more of an oil base than lotions, penetrate the skin better, and help skin retain moisture better and longer. A dermatologist I worked with in training used to say, “If it comes with a pump, don’t use it,” reminding us that moisturizers sold with pumps are typically lotions. Look for creams stamped with the National Eczema Association seal, like Eucerin, Aveeno, Aquaphor or CeraVe.
- Use fragrance-free or “hypo-allergenic” products. This includes soaps, laundry detergents, and dryer sheets! Even air deodorizers and candles can be irritating.
- When an eczema flare up just isn’t being controlled with moisturizing only, quickly tend to it and use topical medications your pediatrician may have prescribed, as directed. There may be some over-the-counter products that can help with acute eczema flares, which are also okay to use.
Remembering these tips can go a long way in keeping itchy eczema away!