Most children suffer from itchy rashes at one point or another in their lives. But eczema can be a particular nuisance that can cause scratching and scratching, which only makes the problem worse.
The term eczema refers to a number of different skin conditions in which the skin becomes inflamed and irritated, and sometimes has small, fluid-filled blisters that become watery and burst open as their contents are emptied. The most common cause of eczema is atopic dermatitis (sometimes called childhood eczema), which affects both older children and infants.
The word “atopic” describes conditions that occur when someone is overly sensitive to allergens in the environment. These include pollen, mold, dust, animal dander, and certain foods. Dermatitis means the skin is inflamed, or red and inflamed.
Children who develop eczema often have family members with hay fever, asthma, or other allergies. Some experts believe that these children may be genetically prone to eczema, which means that the background for the disease has been passed down from the parents through genes that make the child more vulnerable to the disease.
About half of children who develop eczema are likely to develop hay fever or asthma themselves sometime in the future. Eczema itself is not an allergy, but allergies can cause it. Certain environmental factors (such as extreme heat or emotional stress) can also cause this condition.
About one in every 10 children will develop eczema. Typically, symptoms appear during the first few months of life and almost always before the child is 5 years old. But the good news is that more than half of children with eczema today will get through it and be healthy by the time they are teenagers.
The first signs and symptoms of eczema
The signs and symptoms of eczema can vary widely in the early stages. Between 2 and 6 months of age (and almost always up to 5 years), children with eczema usually experience itching, dryness, redness of the skin, and small skin changes on the cheeks, forehead, or scalp. The rash can spread to the arms, legs, and trunk, and red, crusty, or open lesions may appear on any affected area.
They may also have round, slightly raised, itchy and scaly rashes on the curves of the elbows, behind the knees, or on the back of the wrists and ankles.
As children get older, the rash tends to get larger than at the onset of eczema, and the skin is very itchy and dry. These symptoms also tend to get worse and better over time, with periodic flare-ups.
Children often try to relieve itching by scratching the affected area with their hand or something within reach. But scratching can aggravate the rash and eventually lead to the spread of the affected areas on the skin.
How long does it last
In many cases, eczema goes into remission and symptoms can go away completely for months or even years.
For many children, the course of the disease begins to improve by the age of 5 or 6, while others may have flare-ups during adolescence or early adulthood.
For some children, the condition may improve but then resume as they enter puberty, when hormones are injected, when stress or irritants to the skin appear, and cosmetics are applied. In some people, dermatitis in adulthood presents with some degree of itching and dry scaling.
Eczema is not contagious, so there is no need to keep your child away from siblings, other children, or anyone else.
Prevention of eczema
Scientists believe that eczema is hereditary, so it cannot be prevented. But because specific triggers can make the situation worse, you can avoid or reduce the frequency of flare-ups by avoiding possible triggers. These include:
- dandruff of animals;
- dry winter air with a little moisture;
- certain harsh soaps and detergents;
- some fabrics (such as wool or rough fabrics);
- Certain skin care products, perfumes, and colognes (especially those that contain alcohol)
- tobacco smoke;
- some foods (this varies from person to person, but dairy and eggs, wheat, soy, and nuts can be common culprits);
- emotional stress;
- excessive heat.
In addition, “curbing” the child’s tendency to scratch the skin can prevent the condition from worsening and progressing, leading to more serious skin damage or secondary infection.
Diagnosing eczema can be tricky because:
Each child has a unique combination of symptoms that can vary in severity.
It is sometimes confused with other skin conditions such as seborrheic dermatitis, psoriasis (a genetic disorder that causes flaky and inflamed skin), and contact dermatitis (caused by direct skin contact with an irritating substance such as metal, medicine, or soap).
There are no tests available to accurately diagnose eczema.
If your doctor suspects eczema, a thorough medical history is probably the best diagnostic tool. A personal or family history of hay fever, other allergies, or asthma is often an important clue.
In addition to the physical examination, the doctor will likely ask about your child’s symptoms and past health, the health of your family, any medications your child is taking, any allergies your child may have, and other questions. …
The doctor will also help you identify those things in your child’s habitual environment that may increase skin irritation. For example, if your child starts using a new soap or lotion before symptoms start, tell the doctor because something in the soap can irritate his skin.
The doctor may also ask about any stress your child is experiencing at home, school, or elsewhere, because stress can lead to flare-ups of eczema.