What we need to know about Eczema and dry skin
This time of year, many children and their parents feel the effects of the dry, cold weather. When we heat our houses, it dries out the air, adding insult to injury.
The air outside is dry and cold, and the air inside is dry. This sets us up for dry skin.
Eczema is dry skin that becomes inflamed. Parents usually describe eczema in their children and babies as dry patches of skin. The skin may be scaly and rough, and the skin becomes red, irritated, and itchy. Eczema is the most common skin problem in kids, affecting 20% of all kids.
Luckily, most children have mild eczema that is easy to treat.
I know the eczema season has begun when I also get dry skin on my hands, neck, and legs. Parents will notice that their child has dry patches of skin behind the ears, on the cheeks, and scarf distribution as I call it – the upper chest, back, and shoulders. Some babies and children have dry patches but are unphased by it. Others are very itchy, and sometimes itchy children have trouble sleeping.
What causes baby eczema?
Baby eczema is dry skin that occasionally gets more red and inflamed. Most people with eczema have periods of worsening in the winter when the dry air and cold saps moisture’s skin.
Why am I bothered by baby eczema?
Dry patches of skin bother me for three main reasons:
Eczema is itchy. As an adult, we can picture having many mosquito bites. These are very itchy. When we are itchy, we are distracted. Itchy skin may prevent your child from sleeping. If your kids can’t sleep well because they are itchy, they won’t be pleased. Itch leads to irritability, poor sleep, and more challenging behaviors.
When a child is itchy, they scratch. The skin has a ton of bacteria on it. This is normal. When a child scratches, there is the risk of introducing infection. Herpes and bacterial infections on eczema are common and require antibiotics and antiviral medications to treat. Avoiding infection is a must.
Eczema is inflamed skin. Chronically inflamed skin can lead to changes in skin color over time. Skin can become thicker and darker when it is not appropriately managed. Scratching and infection can also lead to scarring.
Eczema treatment 101
Eczema is typically very easy to treat if you are consistent and continue to manage the inflammation.
Here are my simple tricks to treat eczema:
- I recommend bathing your child once a day or less often than this – when you wash, your skin becomes wet, and there is friction in washing. Damp skin and rubbing can make eczema worse.
- I suggest having short baths, no more than 10 minutes, to avoid the wetness and friction from more irritating the skin.
- Consider adding oil to the bathwater. Coconut or baby oil, or a commercial bath oil product can help lubricate the skin.
- When the bath is done, pat your child, avoiding too much rubbing.
- When the skin is still a bit wet, apply lotion or lubrications. This helps to lock in the moisture.
- If your physician has provided you with a steroid cream or ointment, apply this first on the skin. I prefer ointments to creams, as they tend to offer more of a barrier and lubricate the skin.
- On top of the steroid ointment, or on areas where the skin does not require a prescription, apply lotion or lubricating product. My favorite product to use is anything greasy. I suggest either petroleum jelly, petroleum-free jelly, or an oil-based product such as coconut oil. Apply this liberally to any area of dryness.
- Lubricate or moisturize the skin several times a day. I find when the skin is lubricated, it does not get as dry or inflamed.
- As always, if you are concerned about your child’s health or are unclear about a rash your child has, touch base with your healthcare provider.
Dr. Dina Kulik