Sunday, 22 June 2014

Eczema: Stop scratching!

Dressing babies in loose and soft clothing can keep them comfortable and cool.

Dressing babies in loose and soft clothing can keep them comfortable and cool.

This third of four articles describes the ways parents and caregivers can care for children with eczema.

OF all the symptoms we could experience, itchiness is one of the most irritating and bothersome. While most of us can learn ways to manage pain, many may find it difficult to avoid scratching an itch.

For people with atopic eczema, a genetically-linked condition that leaves those who have it with a tendency to suffer from dry skin, scratching can be especially problematic as it can exacerbate symptoms and cause scarring.

Most of the time, the itch gets worse when it is scratched; and continuous scratching may cause the skin to break, bleed and become infected. When this happens, scars may form after the wounds heal.

“The cardinal signs of eczema consist of three main symptoms: itchiness, inflammation and infection,” says paediatric dermatologist Dr Leong Kin Fon.

Dr Leong Kin Fon: The cardinal signs of eczema consist of three main symptoms: itchiness, inflammation and infection.
Dr Leong Kin Fon: The cardinal signs of eczema consist of three main symptoms: itchiness, inflammation and infection.

As the symptoms of atopic eczema often appear before a child reaches five years of age, parents may find their babies irritable and suffering sleep problems after dry and red patches start to appear on their skin. They may also find it difficult to stop their toddlers from scratching affected areas.

“This is when some parents quit their jobs just to take care of their children,” Dr Leong says.

Although atopic eczema is now reported in two out of 10 children in Malaysia, many parents and caregivers do not realise that the condition is treatable and manageable.

If your child suffers from dry, sensitive and itchy skin, the first step you can take is to see a doctor to determine whether your child’s symptoms are due to atopic eczema.

Once a diagnosis is made, she can be treated accordingly, with skin moisturisers and suitable cleansers for mild cases, and antibiotics or topical steroids for more severe cases.

After her symptoms subside, you can teach her ways to cope with the condition by keeping her skin moist, avoiding common eczema triggers, and learning to deal with the itch.

If your child’s skin is kept clean and moist, eczema symptoms are less likely to occur.

This could be achieved by applying suitable moisturisers frequently throughout the day, especially after bathing or washing.

Moisturisers that are suitable for eczema-prone skin are usually unscented and devoid of common skin irritants.

“It is also important to choose a moisturiser that the child likes,” Dr Leong says.

As parents and caregivers, you can minimise your children’s exposure to some of the more common eczema triggers, including irritants like harsh soaps and detergents, perfumes, prolonged exposure to hot and humid environments, sudden changes in temperature and stress.

It also helps to dress them in loose-fitting and soft clothing so they feel cool and comfortable.

When your children grow older, they can be taught measures to keep their skin moist and clean instead of changing their lifestyle or limiting their activities.

For instance, they should always apply adequate moisturisers, and bathe or clean their skin after sweating.

Occasionally, eczema symptoms do reoccur even with the most diligent care.

This is when you need to teach your children how to cope with itchiness and avoid scratching affected areas.

One of the easiest ways to help younger children avoid damaging their skin is to keep their nails short. Older children can be taught different ways to soothe the itch.

“We need to educate the (child) to tap or massage the affected area, and apply suitable moisturisers liberally instead of scratching,” Dr Leong explains.

Other ways to reduce itchiness include applying a cold pack on the affected area and using anti-histamines for more severe cases.

There may be no magic cream or cure for atopic eczema, but its symptoms can be avoided or minimised when the condition is managed well.

  • This article is courtesy of Beiersdorf.

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