The article also includes expert answers by Dr. Hina Shaikh, MD.
Eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis, is an inflammatory, non-contagious skin condition affecting about 30% of the U.S. population, mainly children and adolescents. It is characterized by chronically dry, itchy skin, and people with this condition may be more susceptible to skin infections.
Eczema is caused by a mixture of genetic and environmental factors which may include exposure to allergens, air pollution, and infections.
The major problem in this disorder is a defect in the skin’s barrier that allows the loss of moisture, the introduction of allergens and later, inflammation.
The defect may be caused by an allergic trigger or a genetic mutation that impairs the skin’s barrier. The cases of atopic dermatitis have risen 2-3-fold in the industrialized nations, and have affected 15-20% of children and 1-3% of adults worldwide.
Food allergy is closely associated with atopic dermatitis. About one-third of children with moderate to severe atopic dermatitis will have food allergies. Common food triggers for eczema may include dairy, egg, peanuts and other nuts, wheat, soy, and fish.
Eczema appears as patches of red or dry skin that is often itchy and rough. It typically comes and goes (flares up). Symptoms of eczema in children usually range from mild to severe and may change from one outbreak to another. Over time, the skin may thicken and this may cause constant itching.
The disease typically affects the face and scalp in babies, and it typically appears in the folds of the knees and arms in older children. Traditional treatments for eczema include aggressive moisturization and topical steroid cream.
The first step towards managing atopic dermatitis is to avoid potential triggers. These may include food or environmental allergens. For example, wool has been shown to irritate the skin of children with eczema.
Wearing alternative fabrics such as cotton and silk have shown to reduce itching and assist in absorption of moisturizers.
Here are more details for some home remedies to manage eczema in children.
Moisturizers are essential at any time of the year if your child suffers from eczema, and especially during the winter months when the skin tends to become dry more often.
Get a good quality moisturizer, particularly an ointment rather than a cream, and apply it on your child’s skin to prevent dryness. Look for ointments that do not contain artificial dyes and chemicals.
It is best to apply moisturizers and oils when the skin is still wet after a bath or shower to seal in the moisture.
Natural moisturizers such as coconut oil or sunflower seed oil may also be helpful.
Sunflower oil improves the barrier function of the skin, which in turn prevents skin dryness. Plus, it is safe to use as massage oil for babies.
A 2013 study published in Pediatric Dermatology reports that sunflower seed oil improved hydration of the skin in adults, which may have implications for neonatal skin care.
Coconut oil is another effective remedy for eczema, whether for a child or an adult. It has antifungal, antibacterial, antimicrobial and antioxidant properties. Coconut oil works as a good moisturizer to help prevent your child’s skin from drying out.
A study published in Evidence-Based Complementary & Alternative Medicine reports that virgin coconut oil works as an excellent emollient and natural antibacterial agent, in addition to demonstrating anti-inflammatory activity.
This method involves applying medication or moisturizer to damp skin, then layering with damp gauze and dry gauze. The wraps are left on for several hours or overnight and can help aggressively moisturize the skin and improve itching.
Colloidal oatmeal (oats ground into an extremely fine powder) is a good remedy for children suffering from eczema.
It helps soothe and comfort the itchy skin as it contains anti-irritating, anti-inflammatory and soothing properties that provide instant relief.
A 2012 study published in Clinical, Cosmetic and Investigational Dermatology found colloidal oatmeal to be a safe and effective ingredient in personal care products. It has low potential for irritation and allergy.
Another study published in Dermatology Research and Practice in 2012 reports that consistent, frequent and liberal use of emollients like colloidal oatmeal is recommended to maintain the skin barrier function in patients with mild atopic dermatitis, even in the absence of lesions.
Studies have shown mixed findings, but some positive effects have been seen on eczema patients with the oral use or topical application of evening primrose oil on affected skin.
Evening primrose oil contains essential fatty acids that are necessary for normal skin barrier and function.
The typical dosage of evening primrose oil when it is used for alleviating eczema is about 200 to 400 mg daily. Effects may be seen in 4 to 8 weeks.
One of the major causes of eczema flare-ups in children is food allergy. If you think your child’s eczema may be caused by a food, then allergy testing may be required. Talk to your doctor more about this.
At times it is slightly difficult to find out which food items might be causing eczema flare-up since it may take several days for symptoms to appear. In this case, you may want to try an elimination diet.
Remove the suspected food from your child’s diet for a few weeks and see if you notice any change in symptoms. If not, you can then re-introduce that food over the course of a few days and again, observe for symptoms. You can remove foods sequentially and monitor for any signs of worsening or improving eczema.
Probiotics are good bacteria that live in your gut that may help improve your child’s immune system and the strength on the skin barrier. Giving your child probiotics may have some effect in treating mild to moderate eczema.
A study published in Epidemiology shows that probiotics may also be beneficial in preventing allergic conditions such as eczema. The benefit can occur if the mother takes them during breastfeeding or if they are given to the child directly.
Give probiotics 1-2 times daily to children affected by eczema to see how it may help.
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