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Treating atopic eczema in children

Most children will grow out of their eczema, though a small number will have eczema into adulthood.

While there's no cure for eczema, the key to controlling it is to avoid irritants (triggers), keep their skin well moisturised, to bathe regularly and to use topical (rub-on) steroids when they need them.

Avoid irritants (triggers)

If your child has eczema, their skin is prone to being dry and inflamed, so you need to take care to avoid things that can irritate it and make it worse. Common irritants (known as triggers) include soaps, dust mites, animal dander, detergents, wool and heat or changes in temperature. Once you know their triggers you can try to avoid them. For example, avoid wool and scratchy fabrics next to their skin, instead dress them in soft cotton and use cotton bedding.

Moisturise your baby or child's skin

Even if you avoid irritants, your child's eczema can flare up for no obvious reason. The key to controlling this is to keep their skin well moisturised.

Emollients are moisturising products that you put directly onto skin to soften it, which helps relieve dryness and itch. There are many types of emollients and come in different forms such as lotions, creams and ointments. Talk to your GP or pharmacist about which is best for your child.

You can buy moisturisers at the pharmacy, but it is usually cheaper to get them on prescription from your GP.

Tips on using emollients:

Bathing

Having a bath or shower every day will help to rehydrate your child's skin, remove dry skin and any build-up of emollients. This video shows how bathing once a day can help children with eczema.

Tips on bathing:

Topical steroids

Topical steroids are creams or ointments you apply to your child’s skin to reduce inflammation and make it less itchy. They come in creams and ointments and in different strengths. Your doctor will tell you the right strength to use and give you specific instructions on how to use it.

Tips for applying steroids:

Watch this video How to care for eczema in 3 easy steps.

You can also read more information on Patient.info about what are steroids, including a guide on finger units amounts for babies and children.

Other treatments

Other treatments for eczema in children include:

Watch for infected eczema

It's important to watch your child's skin for signs and symptoms of infected eczema, including:

If your child often gets skin infections it may help to add an antiseptic to their bath, such as Oilatum Plus or QV Flare up – no more than twice a week. These products are quite expensive, an inexpensive option is a bleach bath. Bleach comes in different strengths – this fact sheet tells you how much to use.

Consider these things as well

Food allergies need separate treatment

For most children, a food allergy doesn't cause their eczema. Also, removing food groups from their diet won't cure eczema.

If your child has eczema and a food allergy, you'll need to treat their eczema and allergy individually. Talk to your child’s GP if you have any concerns about food allergies or foods you think may be causing a flare-up of their eczema.

Getting help for my child's eczema

Ask your doctor or nurse about an eczema action plan. This is a useful way to keep track of the moisturisers, soap substitutes, bath oils, antiseptics and steroid creams that your child uses.

Eczema can be challenging for both your baby or child, you and their family. Treatment is not only time consuming but is often disliked. Eczema not only impacts their skin but can also affect quality of life, such as sleep and mood. See your child’s GP if their eczema is affecting their mood or you're concerned about the impact it's having on them or you.

If your child's eczema is not getting better despite treatment, or is getting worse, you should go to see your GP. Your GP may refer you to see a specialist at the hospital (a dermatologist). If you prefer, you can pay to see a private dermatologist. Find a private dermatologist on:

Healthpages

Healthpoint

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Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last updated August 2021.

Sources

Page reference: 47145

Review key: HIEXC-14148