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Eczema in children

Eczema in children: how to soothe your child

Eczema affects 1 in 5 children, and the itchiness and soreness of this skin condition often leads to poor sleep, tears, and irritability. We share expert tips to help you calm and soothe your child's eczema.

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What causes eczema in children?

Having eczema means your skin is more vulnerable to inflammation, and this causes itchy skin, red rashes, and dry or broken skin. This is a very usual condition at all stages of life - but eczema in children is more common, affecting around 2 in 10 kids compared with 1 in 10 adults1.

It's not always clear why some children develop eczema while others don't, but several important factors have a role to play. Dr Mia Jing Gao, a consultant skin specialist at the Cadogan Clinic, explains:

"Genetics play a large part, as do environmental factors like climate, dry air, extreme temperatures, low humidity, air pollution, and exposure to chemicals. We also know that a heightened immune response can lead to eczema inflammation.

"Allergies, irritants, and sensitivities to food can trigger eczema, and emotional stress can make eczema in children worse. Each child's experience of eczema is different, and consulting with a dermatologist can ensure they have a personalised treatment strategy."

Can children grow out of eczema?

Many children do grow out of eczema, which s is why cases of adult eczema are less common than child eczema. The chances of your child's eczema disappearing are high - as many as 80% of children outgrow the condition by adolescence or adulthood2. However, children diagnosed younger - with baby or toddler eczema - those with more severe symptoms of eczema, and those living in urban environments have a higher risk of carrying it into adult life.

Ways to soothe and control your child’s eczema

It's hard seeing a child struggle with eczema. It can disrupt their sleep and leave them sore and irritated. Plus, scratching rashes can lead to infection.

By establishing an eczema-friendly skincare routine, using the right treatments, managing their scratching, and knowing any triggers, you can make a big difference in your child's life.

Dr Gao shares her tips to help soothe eczema in children.

1. Wash them with a soap substitute

When bathing your child, Dr Gao says to use lukewarm water instead of hot which can aggravate sore skin. Soap can also be harsh on dry eczema patches, so choose gentle skincare products that are hypoallergenic and fragrance-free, and do not use bubble bath. You'll also need to gently pat their skin dry, ideally with a fresh towel as regularly washing towels and clothes can help prevent infection.

2. Moisturise them regularly

"Apply fragrance-free hypoallergenic moisturisers morning and night," says the dermatologist. This should be the next step after bathing when their skin is still damp, as moisturiser helps lock in water hydration, which helps to heal dry, flaky skin rashes. For this reason, try and pick a cream rather than a lotion, as the latter tend to be thinner and less effective. If your child's doctor has prescribed any eczema creams, be sure to put these on the eczema before using moisturiser.

3. Put on wet wraps

By allowing eczema creams to sink deep into the affected skin while keeping it hydrated, wet wrap therapy has reportedly helped many children's symptoms3. However, there's little evidence that this technique works better than eczema creams on their own4. When it comes to finding the right treatments - as well as ones your child is open to - every case is different. If you choose to try wet wraps:

  1. Put them on after bathing, medicinal creams, and moisturizers.

  2. Soak your child's pyjamas in warm water.

  3. Wring them out so they are damp and not dripping.

  4. Dress your child in the damp pyjamas, then dry pyjamas on top.

  5. To stop your child getting cold, give them a blanket and make sure the room is warm.

  6. Keep these wet wraps on for at least a half an hour, or you can leave them on overnight.

  7. Apply moisturiser after removing the wet wraps.

4. Dress them in breathable clothes

"Dress your child in soft, breathable, loose-fitting clothing and also choose natural rather than synthetic fabrics," says Dr Gao.

To minimise their exposure to ingredients that are known to irritate eczema, wash your child's clothes with mild, non-biological, fragrance-free detergent and do not use fabric softeners.

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5. Keep them away from known triggers

There are many known irritants and allergens that can trigger eczema in children, and these are different for different people. If you're unsure if your child's eczema flare ups are triggered by certain substances, keep a diary to track when their symptoms become worse and what they have recently been exposed to.

Keep note of possible exposure to these common triggers:

  • Pollen - many children with eczema also have hay fever.

  • Heat and sweat.

  • Dust mites and pet dander.

  • Fragrances - such as perfumes, air fresheners, and scented candles.

  • Skincare products - any new ones introduced that aren't designed for sensitive skin.

  • Insect bites and stings.

  • Tobacco smoke.

  • Wool and synthetic fabrics.

  • Food - in rare cases.

6. Control their scratching

As a parent, it isn't an easy task to keep your child from scratching when they feel itchy, but scratching can make the skin feel even more itchy, cause open sores, and risk skin infections. Dr Gao's tips include keeping your child's nails short, and putting their hands in gloves as they go to sleep to prevent nighttime scratching.

7. Manage environmental factors

While you can't control the weather, you can keep an eye on the forecast for extreme temperatures, as well as a high pollen count if hay fever triggers their flare ups. As well as limiting their time outdoors during very hot or cold days, Dr Gao recommends considering a dehumidifier in dry climates and through the winter to add moisture to the air.

8. Seek professional advice

Over-the-counter creams for eczema are available in pharmacies, but if you're worried about your child's skin it's best to see a qualified health professional - like your GP or a dermatologist - for an assessment. To soothe or help reduce the recurrence of eczema flare ups, a doctor might prescribe:

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Further reading

  1. National Eczema Society: Information and advice.

  2. National Eczema Association:Eczema stats.

  3. Nicol and Boguniewicz: Wet wrap therapy in moderate to severe atopic dermatitis.

  4. González-López: Efficacy and safety of wet wrap therapy for patients with atopic dermatitis: a systematic review and meta-analysis.

Article history

The information on this page is peer reviewed by qualified clinicians.

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