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Eczema in Children
Eczema in Children
Skin is our largest organ and can often be the first to show signs of an underlying problem, particularly in children. Atopic dermatitis, also known as eczema, is a common skin disorder in infants and children that is characterized by redness and itching. It can affect any part of the body, though it is often found on the creases of the elbows and knees, behind the ears, on the scalp and on the face and hands.
Episodes of eczema may be short-lived, or they may be chronic, with periods of exacerbation and remission. In children who have atopic dermatitis, the skin may be red, dry, chapped and flaky. There also may be small red pimples and blisters that ooze when the skin is broken. While eczema is not contagious, it can be very itchy and uncomfortable. If the child scratches, she can develop an infection in addition to the rash. Symptoms may get worse with heat and sweating, chlorinated water, cold weather or wool garments on the skin.
It is often difficult to determine the exact cause of eczema, but it may be the first sign of atopic syndome, a predisposition to a “hyperallergic” state associated with allergic rhinitis (hayfever), asthma and food allergies. There is often a family history of one of more of these conditions in children with eczema.
What can you do?
Contact allergies, friction and dry skin can make this condition worse. Here are some things you can do:
- Take note of the products the child comes into contact with, and keep in mind that bubble bath is a common culprit.
- Use gentle soaps or non-soap cleansers that are hypoallergenic and fragrance-free. Use soap only on visibly dirty areas; otherwise just wash with water.
- Keep the child’s fingernails clean, short and smooth to help prevent infection.
- After bathing, pat the child dry and apply a mosturizing cream. Look for products that do not contain parabens, petroleum jelly or alcohol, which are harsh and irritating. Ingredients like calendula, chamomile, yarrow, coconut oil, almond oil, olive oil and vitamin E are soothing and healing to the skin.
- Loose-fitting cotton clothing that has been washed prior to wearing is most comfortable for infants and children with eczema.
Your child’s doctor may prescribe a hydrocortisone ointment to help reduce inflammation and relieve some itching. However, these creams are not suitable for long-term use, as they can thin the skin and do not address the underlying cause of the eczema.
Treatment of atopic dermatitis should focus on removing the cause of the condition. Once any possible external irritants have been removed, food allergies, nutritional factors and emotional health should be addressed.
Atopic dermatis is frequently a symptom of a food allergy. Exposure to the allergen may be from formula, breastmilk or the introduction of solid foods. Foods that are commonly associated with eczema include dairy, eggs, citrus, wheat and soy. Eliminating these foods from the child’s or breastfeeding mother’s diet for three weeks to six months can have a significant impact on the child’s skin. It’s important to ensure that both the mother and the child maintain a healthy intake of nutrients while eliminating foods, so consult a naturopathic doctor or holistic nutritionist if you have any concerns.
While the foods a breastfeeding mother is consuming may affect a child’s eczema, it is important to note that breastfeeding is protective against atopic conditions. A 2008 article in the journal Pediatrics states that breastfeeding for at least four months delays the occurrence of atopic dermatitis and wheezing in children who have a parent or sibling with a predisposition towards allergies.
Key nutritional supplements should include an age-appropriate probiotic supplement, a high-quality essential fatty acid supplement (as fish oil, cod liver oil, flaxseed oil, borage oil or evening primrose oil), zinc and vitamin C. These nutrients play a significant role in skin and digestive health, as well as decrease inflammation and the allergic response.
Children are also sensitive to emotional upset and anxiety. Eczema flare-ups may occur when the child has encountered a stressful situation at school or at home, such as moving or separation. Calming herbs such as chamomile, oats, lemon balm and lavender taste pleasant and can be given as teas to help a nervous or anxious child relax. While stressful situations are inevitable, a skin exacerbation might be a clue to check in with how the child is feeling.
If you suspect your child has atopic dermatitis, be sure to see your healthcare provider in order rule out more serious conditions and infection before starting any natural treatments.
By: Erin Psota, ND
Dr. Psota completed her medical studies at the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine in 2005 after obtaining her Bachelor of Science degree at the University of Waterloo. Following three years of private practice in Canada, her passion regarding pediatric care led her to Arizona in pursuit of a unique Pediatric Residency opportunity at the Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine. During her residency, Dr. Psota was involved in teaching pediatrics and supervising student clinical rotations at a free clinic in an underserved area of downtown Phoenix. She maintains a private practice in Toronto, is a member of the Pediatric Association of Naturopathic Physicians (PedANP) and is actively involved with the Ontario Board of Directors of Drugless Therapy-Naturopathy.
October 4th, 2012