Eczema is a medical condition of the skin. It is estimated that more than 30 million Americans have eczema. While there is not a cure for eczema, there are treatments to help manage the symptoms.

Normal, healthy skin acts like a protective barrier that prevents water from getting out and keeps outside agents such as irritants or bacteria from getting in. When you have eczema, your skin barrier function is decreased, which makes your skin more susceptible to irritants, allergens and bacteria. Children with eczema have dry, red, itchy skin which usually occurs in the skin folds of the elbows and knees, wrists, ankles and neck.

Eczema is also called “atopic dermatitis,” because children with eczema are at high risk of developing allergic diseases such as hay fever, food allergies and asthma.

What causes eczema?

There seems to be a strong genetic link to eczema, and the major genes involved in eczema are responsible for the structural proteins that maintain the skin barrier. An inadequate skin barrier makes it very susceptible to water loss, further impairing the barrier function and allowing entry of irritants, allergens and bacteria. The immune system reacts to these substances, leading to inflammation and itching of the skin.

Will my child always have eczema?

If your child suffers from eczema, it is very likely that they will grow out of it – around 75 percent of sufferers grow out of it by their mid-teens, though their skin will retain the tendency to be dry and they may remain prone to getting eczema on their hands throughout their adult years.

Tips & treatments

For dry skin: Eczema is primarily a disease of dry skin and keeping the skin moist daily can prevent many of the problems associated with eczema. At least twice a day, apply a greasy ointment such as Eucerin, Aquaphor or Vaseline to keep the skin barrier intact.

For the bath: Soap can dry the skin out and make eczema worse. Use mild soaps without fragrances and avoid bubble baths. Immediately following a bath, pat the skin dry to leave a little moisture and apply a greasy ointment over still-wet skin to lock in moisture.

For the pool: Before swimming, apply a thick moisturizer to the skin. After swimming, shower or bathe to remove chlorine and reapply moisturizer.

For scratching: Praise your child when they don’t scratch their eczema and trim their nails regularly so that when they do scratch their skin, the damage they cause is minimal. Teach children to pat or pinch their skin when it itches rather than scratch. You can also give an antihistamine like Benadryl to help with scratching at night.

For a rash: Your pediatrician can prescribe an anti-inflammatory steroid ointment to be applied to the inflamed areas of the skin. Be sure to apply the steroid ointment first and the moisturizer afterward.

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Gerald Lee, M.D.

Gerald Lee, M.D., a UofL Physicians board-certified allergist and immunologist, knows that allergies are nothing to sneeze at in the Ohio Valley. Allergies and asthma affect about one in five people. Dr. Lee is UofL Physicians-Allergy’s first full-time allergist. He completed training in both pediatrics and adult internal medicine, as well as a three-year allergy and immunology fellowship at the University of Cincinnati. Dr. Lee treats allergies and asthma across all age groups, including allergic rhinitis and sinusitis – what most people think of as common seasonal allergies -- as well as food allergies.

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