Sixty-five percent of eczema patients are diagnosed in the first year of life and 90 percent of patients with eczema experience it before age 5. It is estimated that atopic dermatitis, the most severe and long-lasting kind of eczema, affects over 30 million Americans. Dr. Laurie Shinn, a dermatologist at Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU, gives us a 101 course in identifying and treating this common condition.What is eczema? Eczema is a sensitivity of the skin to its surroundings. Many things that cause eczema to flare are irritants (items that cause skin irritation), but others are true allergens (items that cause an allergic reaction). If your child has eczema, it helps to talk with their doctor about which things are irritants and which are true allergens. Skin gives us a barrier to germs and regulates our temperature and an eczema flare-up can decrease your skin’s ability to do that.How do you identify eczema? When eczema occurs, skin can become uncomfortable with itching or pain and can develop surface infections (yellow crusted areas or open red sores). There are many ways eczema can present, so it’s best to have rashes that occur repeatedly evaluated by a pediatrician or primary care physician and treated appropriately. Your child’s doctor may start eczema therapy and decide if referral to a dermatologist is required.How do you avoid flare-ups?It is important to avoid things that can cause eczema to flare-up such as: excessive heat/humidity or cold; skin rubbing against rough clothing or carpet; fragrances from perfume, carpet deodorizers, detergents, soaps, lotions, etc.; and allergens and irritants (once they have been identified). Long, hot baths and showers, excessive chlorine exposure, and harsh soaps can over dry the skin which can also cause eczema to flare-up. For those who have been diagnosed with eczema, the following dermatologist-recommend daily skin care habits can help minimize or avoid flare-ups:
- Stick to short 10-minute warm-water baths or showers and use mild fragrance-free cleansers.
- Apply a fragrance-free, thick cream twice a day, especially right after bathing or showering.
- Use only skin care products and other products (sunscreen, laundry detergent, shampoo, etc.) that are fragrance-free and designed for sensitive skin.
How do you relieve eczema?Wet wraps (using white cotton pajamas to cover moisturizer applied over areas of eczema) can help relieve itching and improve healing. Prescription skin creams, medication to combat allergic reactions and antibiotics can be recommended by a dermatologist as a “rescue” treatment, but eczema is mainly controlled through good skin care!