Sledding and snowmen might be on your child's mind as the calendar turns to January. But winter's cold temperatures and dry air can wreak havoc on delicate young skin—especially if your child suffers from a condition known as eczema. Proper skin care and medication can help alleviate symptoms and prevent flare-ups—during the winter months and year-round.
Eczema, or atopic dermatitis, is a chronic skin condition in which the skin is dry, itchy and inflamed. Between 10 and 15 percent of people have eczema. The condition is most common in children and generally appears during the first year.
Symptoms include patches of red, scaly and itchy skin. In infants, eczema often appears on the face, stomach, arms and legs. In toddlers, it frequently appears on the insides of the knees and elbows.
Eczema is not contagious. Nor is it curable. It's a chronic condition. However, practicing good skin care and understanding the triggers that cause eczema to flare will help you manage your child's condition.
No single factor causes eczema. Environmental and food allergens may be important triggers in some children. Genetics also may play a role. Children diagnosed with eczema generally have a family member with the condition or related disorders such as asthma, hay fever or other allergies.
According to the American Academy of Dermatology, about 40 percent of children with eczema will outgrow the condition by the time they're young adults. But relapses may occur later in life. Seeking medical treatment early is the best course of action.
Tips for managing eczema
Your pediatrician, family physician or dermatologist will determine the best treatment approach for your child's eczema. Most often, this will include a combination of gentle skin care, lifestyle modifications and medication, including a topical steroid.
Good skin care and lifestyle modifications will help lessen the frequency and severity of symptoms. These practices include the following:
• Hydrating the skin with frequent soaking baths.
- Soak your child in a lukewarm bath for 10 to 20 minutes every day.
- Use a mild, unscented soap for bathing.
- Pat dry with a cotton towel.
- After bathing, apply a thick, unscented moisturizer (such as Vaseline®, Cetaphil®, Vanicream® or Aquaphor®).
• Applying moisturizer twice daily, including once after bathing.
• Using mild, fragrance-free soaps and detergents.
• Wearing cotton clothing.
• Preventing or minimizing environmental triggers, including dust mites and pet dander. For example, use mattress covers on beds. Wash mattress covers weekly and dry with high heat.
By taking these steps, you can help protect your child's skin from winter's wrath while enjoying all of the season's charms.
For more information, please visit rileyhospital.org.
Anita Haggstrom is director of Pediatric Dermatology, Riley Hospital for Children