IT can be heartbreaking to watch your little one battle eczema.
The skin condition causes itchiness, redness and inflammation, which can be uncomfortable and sometamazimes sore for the sufferer.
There are seven types of eczema.
Atopic eczema – the most common type – is when the skin is unable to retain moisture. It becomes dry which makes the skin more likely to react to irritants.
Contact dermatitis is when bouts of eczema are caused by a specific substance, sometimes causing a reaction days later.
One in every five children is affected by eczema at some stage, according to the British Skin Foundation.
There is no cure for the condition, but sometimes people “grow out” of it or have long periods without it.
People live with the skin condition by using treatments and learning what triggers their flare-ups.
But Dr Derrick Phillips, Consultant Dermatologist and British Skin Foundation spokesperson, said: "It is not always possible to identify triggers for eczema.
"Parents should focus on reducing the risk of flares by addressing the skin barrier impairment with regular application of moisturisers and use of bath emollients. Any suspected triggers should be discussed with your doctor.
"Parents should see their doctors if the symptoms (itch, redness, soreness) do not improve with moisturisers, emollients and bath emollients; or there are signs of infection."
Over the years, research has been able to pinpoint common reasons why eczema flares up.
The Centre of Evidence-based Dermatology, University of Nottingham, outlined these in a 2009 paper by reviewing studies, including one which followed 60 children with the condition.
“This information is likely to be useful to families and may lead to the ability to reduce disease flares in the future,” they said.
It found the following were triggers in eczema, generally:
Shampoo – especially in cold weather
Shampoo and other detergents like shower gel, hand soap and washing-up liquid contain dozens of chemicals.
These were found to increase how much eczema bothered children day-to-day as well how much they scratched.
Interestingly, researchers said the effect of shampoo was exacerbated by the cold weather.
This was likely “due to imparired skin barrier function”, they said.
When the skin barrier is weaker in the cold weather – due to water loss – there is more opportunity for soaps to enter the skin and cause irritation.
There are plenty of washing alternatives for the shower or bath that are more gentle to eczema sufferers – but the best thing to do is avoid them as much as possible.
Mums have raved about Childs Farm as eczema-friendly shower and shampoo products for easy bath times with kids.
- Childs Farm Baby Shampoo Fragrance-Free, £3 – buy now
- Weleda Baby Calendula Shampoo and Body Wash, £5.40 – buy now
The fur of an animal – and all the mites, dust and plant pollens they carry (dander) – is a common trigger for eczema.
The study found that eczema on the hands was particularly sensitive to pets.
It’s thought that some people have a dilated hypersensitive reaction to dander which causes an allergic response. This can result in an eczema flare.
While this may be more common with other people’s pets, you can reduce the risks of your own pet causing irritation by vacuuming often, getting hardwood floors and keeping your pet well-groomed.
Some studies show that kids who grow up with a pet are less likely to get eczema when they’re older. The evidence is clearer for dogs than cats.
Dust mites are an environmental irritant linked with eczema in the same category as pollen or pollution.
These tiny bugs live in the carpets, sofas, blankets and other furnishings. They are so small you can’t see them.
The dust mites don’t bite, but they excrete a substance that can irritate the skin.
Unfortunately there is only one way to help fix this – clean more often!
Reducing humidity in the home can also help as house dust mites thrive in humid conditions.
To help stop the scratch-cycle, try giving your child a product that relieves the itch without breaking the skin, such as a Cosi Care Scratch Star or Attack Roller.
- Cosi Care Scratch Star, £35 – buy now
- Cosi Care Attack Roller, £35 – buy now
How to cope with winter flare-ups
Dr Derrick Phillips, Consultant Dermatologist and British Skin Foundation spokesperson, said: "Winter flares are largely driven by the reduction in household humidity caused by central heating."
The risk of flares can be reduced by:
· Not sitting close to radiators
· Wearing layers and reducing the heating
· Use of humidifiers
· Warm instead of baths/showers
· Moisturising immediately after baths/showers
Nylon and wool
Nylon is a kind of material used to make clothing.
When directly next to eczema, it was found in the research to worsen symptoms, particularly on the trunk and limbs.
Nylon is one of many synthetic or “man-made” materials that are considered problematic for people with eczema.
These types of materials can cause overheating or sweating which can set off the dreaded itch feeling.
Meanwhile wool, which is a natural material, was found to be irritating for the limbs.
Wool can feel rough on the skin which is a nightmare for people with already sensitive, itchy skin. Some people also have an allergy to wool.
Experts always recommend people with eczema wear cotton as much as possible because it allows the skin to breathe.
Bamboo and silk are other preferred choices.
- Cotton Comfort Eczema Dungarees in Blue Stripe, £29.50 – buy now
Sweating, either from hot and sunny weather or exercise, can irritate eczema, researchers say.
Sweat is the body’s natural response to the body heating up. As it evaporates, it cools the surface of the skin.
However, the sodium (salt) in sweat can dehydrate the skin of people with eczema and sometimes make it sting.
This can make summer and exercising with the condition difficult, but there are a number of ways to prevent an outbreak.
Drink plenty of fluids, wipe sweat away, try and keep cool with a fan and moisturise before and after exercise.
- Childs Farm 50+ SPF Sun Cream, £12 at Boots – buy now
Kids love swimming.
But the study found it not only makes eczema more bothersome and itchy, but worsens the symptoms to the point parents seek more treatment for their child.
Some children may react to the chemicals, such as chlorine, in the pool – called irritant contact dermatitis.
Meanwhile, dryness of the skin after swimming is likely to occur if the pH of the pool water is raised, the National Eczema Society warns.
Avoiding swimming when eczema is bad is the simple solution.
But even when the skin is in a good phase, keep habits such as applying emollient cream (which is thicker than a moisturiser) around half an hour before swimming to act as a barrier against the water.
- Cetraben Cream moisturiser, £4.99 – buy now
- Cetreban Ointment, £7.30 – buy now
Combination of factors
The research team said that a combination of any three factors was likely to exacerbate symptoms even more.
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