All you need to know about this skin condition and how to help your child manage their itching battle with their skin.
WORDS NURULHUDA SUHAIMI
Also known as atopic dermatitis, eczema commonly occurs in infants and toddlers and is typically characterised by itchy skin that is dry, flaky, and inflamed, along with a red rash.
If your bub has eczema, you might be racking your brain as to what is causing it. Unfortunately, there is no known exact trigger of eczema. According to Dr Elizabeth Tham, consultant in the Division of Paediatric Allergy, Immunology & Rheumatology at the National University Hospital, childhood eczema can develop as a result of “a combination of genes, such as mutations in skin barrier genes, and an environmental trigger”.
Your family medical history may play a part too. “Children whose families have a history of allergic diseases like eczema, allergic rhinitis or asthma have a higher risk of developing eczema,” says Dr Tham.
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How to Treat Eczema
If you suspect your child has eczema, it is essential you consult a doctor who can diagnose this skin condition and will then be able to prescribe the appropriate treatment for your child. If left untreated, eczema can result in other complications such as bacterial skin infections or blood infections, according to Dr Tham.
Furthermore, eczema that is left untreated may not only lead to physical health complications. Says Dr Tham, “Chronic poor sleep and constant scratching can lead to psychological or behavioural problems like depression and anxiety.”
“Children may also suffer from bullying, poor self-esteem, attention deficit disorders, and poor school performance,” she adds.
In addition, a doctor will be able to diagnose other co-existing allergic diseases, like asthma, allergic rhinitis, and food allergies, says Dr Tham. There are several treatment options available for eczema, including prescription medications as well as home remedies.
Steroids are usually prescribed to treat mild cases of eczema. These steroids are available in different formulas such as oils and creams. “Topical steroids are needed to treat red and inflamed areas to prevent worsening of the eczema rash and development of complications,” says Dr Tham.
If your child’s eczema is more severe, other forms of medication may be necessary to treat their condition. “Topical calcineurin inhibitors (TCI), which are anti-inflammatory medications, phototherapy, oral steroids or oral immunomodulators, may be prescribed by your child’s doctor for more severe eczema cases,” explains Dr Tham. In addition, oral antihistamines may be prescribed to reduce itching, adds Dr Tham.
Besides medications, maintaining a daily routine at home is also essential in improving your child’s eczema. For instance, during your child’s bath time, Dr Tham recommends using a soap-free bath wash and shampoo.
Applying moisturiser regularly, and immediately
after a bath will also help to retain the moisture
in your child’s skin, thus keeping it hydrated.
“Some children will also benefit from wet wraps to keep the skin moist overnight and reduce scratching while the child is asleep,” says Dr Tham.
“Keeping fingernails short and clean will also help to protect the skin from further damage,” she adds.
The good news is, if your child’s eczema is mild, they will likely outgrow it as they get older. However, it may not be totally cured if your child has early onset eczema or a more severe case of the skin condition.
No matter the extent of your child’s eczema, it is important to exercise proper management of eczema as it can significantly help to improve your child’s eczema condition, as well as their overall quality of life.
Follow expert advice
“Consult a paediatrician specialising in allergy or a dermatologist and follow their advice closely on how to manage your child’s eczema,” says Dr Tham.
If your doctor has prescribed your child with
a topical steroid to treat their eczema, be sure to
follow the prescription recommendations set by your doctor.
Advises Dr Tham, “Many parents are worried about using topical steroids because of the perceived side effects, but short courses of the steroid cream at the appropriate concentration will control eczema much better in the long term than avoiding steroids completely, which will lead to worse complications.”
“Remember that management of eczema is a long-term commitment as eczema will come and go over a long period of time and hence, compliance to treatment is essential for good eczema control,” she adds.
As your child grows older, it is important for them to learn how to manage their eczema by themselves. Doing so will reduce their dependence on you and will enable them to create their own management routine that would be easier for them to maintain daily. “Help your child to participate in their own eczema care by allowing them to learn to apply their medications under supervision as they grow older, and slowly become self-sufficient,” advises Dr Tham.
Remember that the effects of eczema are not just limited to the physical body; eczema can also result in psychological effects.
Dr Tham advises parents to provide their child with plenty of emotional support. It might also be a good idea to discuss with your child's teachers on how they can assist in helping your child manage the social effects of eczema in their school.
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