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Treating atopic eczema in children

Te whakarauora i te mate harehare

Atopic eczema is a dry skin condition that causes skin to become red (inflamed) and itchy.

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

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

Avoid irritants (triggers)

If your child has eczema, their skin barrier does not work well and is sensitive to irritants, which can make their eczema worse.

Common irritants (known as triggers) include soaps, detergents, wool and scratchy fabrics and heat. Food is not often a trigger for eczema and avoiding food groups does not usually help eczema.

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

Moisturisers (sometimes called emollients) add moisture to the skin and can help protect it, which relieves dryness and itch. There are many types of moisturisers and they come in different forms such as lotions, creams and ointments. Talk to your general practice team 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 general practice team.

Tips on using moisturisers:


Having a bath or shower every day will help to rehydrate your child's skin and remove dry skin and any build-up of moisturisers.

Tips on bathing:

Topical steroids

Topical steroids are creams or ointments you apply to your child’s skin to reduce the inflammation (red, angry bits). Steroids come in different strengths. The strength your child needs depends on the areas of inflammation and its severity. 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 about steroids and how they work.

Other treatments

Other treatments for eczema in children include:

Watch for infected eczema

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

If you think your child has a skin infection, it is important to see your general practice team promptly.

Consider these things as well

Food allergies need separate treatment

For most children, a food allergy does not cause their eczema. Also, removing food groups from their diet will not cure eczema.

If your child has eczema and a food allergy, you will need to treat their eczema and allergy individually. Talk to your child’s general practice team 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 general practice team about an eczema action plan. This is a useful way to keep track of the moisturisers, soap substitutes, antiseptics and steroid creams that your child uses.

Eczema can be challenging for both your baby or child, you and your family. The treatment is time consuming, and children often dislike it. Eczema not only impacts their skin but can also affect their quality of life, such as sleep and mood. See your child’s general practice team if their eczema is affecting their mood or you are concerned about the impact it is having on them or you.

If your child's eczema is not getting better despite treatment, or is getting worse, you should see your general practice team. Your general practice team may refer you to see a specialist at the hospital.

If you prefer, you can pay to see a private dermatologist. You can find a private dermatologist on Healthpoint.

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Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed August 2021. Last updated February 2022.


Page reference: 47145

Review key: HICOD-326084