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Eczema in Children: Caring for Your Child

Updated on October 05, 2021
Medically reviewed by
Kevin Berman, M.D., Ph.D.
Article written by
Anastasia Climan

Children with atopic dermatitis (eczema) may experience various physical and psychological symptoms. Eczema in babies tends to show up on the forehead, cheeks, scalp, elbows, or trunk. For older children, symptoms most often appear on the inner elbows, behind the knees, wrists, ankles, or neck. Adolescents with eczema often feel self-conscious about skin that can develop discolored patches or blisters as the result of a skin infection.

Because there’s no specific cure for eczema, figuring out your child’s triggers and the best treatment options can seem like a guessing game. Using the experience of living with eczema to teach children empathy and resilience can help turn eczema into a positive life lesson.

Managing Your Child’s Eczema Symptoms

On MyEczemaTeam, parents and caregivers discuss their challenges and triumphs for dealing with eczema. “My daughter is two and has chronic eczema,” one member wrote. “We have tried so many topical steroid and nonsteroid creams, but none have helped. We have tried Crisco, Vaseline, and most recently, calamine lotion. She takes Zyrtec in the morning and Benadryl every night. The calamine has helped a little, but she still itches and digs her skin out. We’re desperate for any advice!”

If you feel lost while trying to keep your child’s eczema under control, you’re not alone. Another member offered some suggestions to the community: “My son has had eczema since birth, and I have tried everything under the sun. But, the best thing I have found for his face is called desonide. I am not sure if there is an age restriction, but it’s worth suggesting. Also, bathe every night. Really soak in the water. You do not have to use soap every night.”

Managing eczema at any age isn’t easy. Infants and toddlers are too young to follow instructions, and older children may resist taking advice from their parents. Here are some of the more difficult aspects of childhood eczema and solutions from others who can relate.

Bathtime and Bedtime Tips

The American Academy of Dermatology Association offers four simple tips to bathe a child with eczema. These include:

  • Put everything you need near the tub, including moisturizing cream for after the bath.
  • Use water that’s room temperature, not too hot.
  • Avoid bubble baths or bath oils, which may contain irritants. Choose a fragrance-free, gentle skin cleanser to wash dirty areas gently, and avoid the skin affected by eczema.
  • Don’t let your child bathe for more than 20 minutes. Most kids with eczema should limit baths to 10 minutes or shorter.

Ask your child’s doctor about therapeutic baths, like oatmeal baths or bleach baths, to improve your child’s eczema symptoms.

Itchy skin makes it harder for children with eczema to get a good night’s sleep. They may be more likely to scratch at night when their parents aren’t watching.

One member of MyEczemaTeam described this problem: “My daughter is 3 1/2, and lately, her eczema has flared up something fierce! We have a terrible time at night and first thing in the morning to keep her from scratching. We put socks on her hands, but she will just take them off in the middle of the night. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated!”

Another member responded, “Cut her nails. File them short. Use a cotton bedsheet instead of a duvet, as they are far too warm. Keep her room well-ventilated, even if you have to put a fan on.”

Work with your child’s health care team to figure out the best way to reduce itching and avoid allergens. When your child isn’t tempted to scratch their skin, they’ll be less likely to develop rashes and infections. A combination of the following tips can help you get a handle on your child’s condition during bedtime:

  • Sedating antihistamines may help, particularly when taken before bed.
  • Apply moisturizer throughout the day.
  • Avoid fuzzy stuffed animals and toys.
  • Choose sheets and pajamas made from natural fibers, like cotton.
  • Keep the bedroom cool and use lightweight bedsheets to prevent sweating.
  • Use a humidifier in dry conditions.

Overcoming Resistance to Eczema Treatment

Though you want what’s best for your child, getting kids and teens to cooperate with eczema treatment can turn into a stressful power struggle. Children can’t always see the long-term benefits of caring for their skin and may get frustrated when told not to scratch itchy areas.

It’s best to prioritize the most important aspects of your child’s eczema treatment plan and avoid unnecessary restrictions. Enlisting the help of others, like teachers, a school nurse, or other adults in your child’s life, can help keep you from always being the one to face resistance. As your child gets older, giving them as many choices as possible and educating them on the reasons behind necessary skin care routines will provide them with greater autonomy over their condition.

Preparing for Injections

In addition to standard childhood vaccines, kids with eczema may need extra injections for allergy testing or eczema treatment. It’s normal for children to be nervous about injections, especially if they remember previous injections being painful. Surprising your child or lying to them about what’s about to happen can break trust. Instead, coach them through the process. Encourage your child to be brave and remind them that pain is temporary and the results of the tests can help them. You can also ask your child’s doctor about applying numbing patches or creams before injections.

Sometimes, a colorful bandage and praise for their courage are enough to help young children overcome their fear of shots. To get older children on board with necessary injections, talk to them about the benefits of undergoing treatment. Having an authority figure (their health care provider) explain the reason for the shot may make teens more agreeable to treatment.

How To Apply Topical Medications

Applying creams and ointments to a child’s skin is tricky. Energetic toddlers can be especially tough to pin down and may try to grab and rub the skin you just treated. Experimenting with different applicators can help, such as using a paintbrush, cotton ball, or even a sponge-like makeup applicator. If the area is small enough, covering it with a bandage will prevent your little one from touching the medication with their hands. Find a cream or lotion that your child likes on their skin.

Building Your Child’s Self-Esteem and Resilience

Kids with eczema are more likely to experience depression and anxiety. Poor-quality sleep, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, bullying, and bothersome skin irritations may contribute to mental health issues. Watching out for the warning signs (including social withdrawal, emotional outbursts, and changes to their eating habits or mood) can help you know when to seek outside help and support for your child.

Eczema is considered a lifelong condition, but many children’s symptoms improve as they get older. Teaching your child that all people face different struggles in life and highlighting the things they have to be grateful for can help them avoid feeling sorry for themselves and maintain a positive outlook.

Talk With Others Who Understand

MyEczemaTeam is the social network for people with eczema. On MyEczemaTeam, more than 39,000 people come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories about living with eczema.

Do you care for a child with eczema? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.

All updates must be accompanied by text or a picture.
Kevin Berman, M.D., Ph.D. is a dermatologist at the Atlanta Center for Dermatologic Disease, Atlanta, GA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Learn more about him here.
Anastasia Climan is a dietitian with over 10 years of experience in public health and medical writing. Learn more about her here.

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