Eczema is a chronic skin condition which affects 1.7 million children in the UK. Causing skin to become itchy, reddened, dry, and cracked, eczema can lead to great physical discomfort and even psychological difficulties, such as lack of confidence, depression, and anxiety.
Eczema in children
Atopic eczema is the most common form of childhood eczema. The National Eczema Society, say that the term ‘atopic’ refers to ‘a genetic condition based on the interaction between a number of genes and environmental factors.’
For around 85 percent of children, eczema begins in their first five years of life. Many children will grow out of it as they get older, and in around 74 percent of children the eczema has disappeared by the time they are 16, although they may still have sensitive skin as adults.
Symptoms of eczema
Intense itching is usually the first symptom experienced. Eczema may manifest itself as oozing blisters and moist legions, or can be dry and scaly skin which can flake and crust. Persistent scratching may lead to skin becoming thickened and dry. Often the scratching can cause bleeding, which may lead to infections.
The most common areas for eczema are the face, neck, insides of elbows, knees, and ankles – often occurring in joints. This can lead to difficulties and discomfort with movement.
Psychological impact of eczema
While we may assume that eczema is simply a physical condition, it can in fact have a psychological impact on sufferers. They may have to put up with ill-informed comments from others, discrimination, and bullying. It may also cause anxiety, frustration, lack of confidence, and depression.
For young eczema sufferers it can affect their childhood experiences, as they may not be able to participate in the activities which other children enjoy, such as swimming, sleepovers, or simply just running around. Things like hugs, cuddles, and clothing which many children take for granted may be uncomfortable for a child with eczema.
The effective treatment of eczema involves taking a holistic approach, meaning that both the physical and psychological impacts are considered.
- If you are concerned that your child may have eczema, the first step is to take them to see a GP. They will advise you on the best course of treatment. Most likely they will prescribe an emollient to moisturise the skin and if the skin is inflamed, a topical corticosteroid.
- Keeping skin clean is important to reduce risk of infection. Avoid soap and bubble baths as they can be very drying for the skin. Try an emollient body wash or shower gel as an effective alternative.
- If you are concerned that your child’s diet may be affecting their eczema, keep a food diary, noting any eczema flare ups. This may help to identify a particular food that could be a trigger. Always make sure you consult a doctor before making any dietary changes. While common food triggers are cow’s milk, eggs, nuts, and wheat, it can vary for each child.
- Use a washing powder or liquid for sensitive skin and avoid biological detergents.
- If you are worried your child is scratching at night, remember to keep their fingernails short, and they could even try wearing gloves to reduce the risk of injury and infection.