The Girlfriends' Guide to Pediatric Eczema: The Basics

Get the scoop on eczema from a mom who knows all about it.


The Girlfriends' Philosophy is this:

Nearly everything you'll ever need to know about being a mother, you'll learn from other Girlfriends who've been there, done that. Don't get me wrong -- we LOVE our pediatricians and rarely make a move without consulting them, but sometimes we're embarrassed to ask questions or to "waste" their precious time with things that don't involve projectile vomiting or stitching a head wound. Plus there's the fact that some kid problems are more than just physical -- they're emotional too, and that's always hard to talk about, sometimes even with your Girlfriends.

This Girlfriends' Guide is devoted to eczema for several reasons: first, because it's so darn common that you can't go to a preschool without finding five or six kids who suffer from it; second, because this skin condition is one of the most misunderstood and frustrating, it often remains undiagnosed and inadequately treated; and third, to beg you, plead with you, and generally whine until you promise to consult your child's doctor to see if there's any relief for your little one that you aren't providing simply because you don't fully understand eczema.

Here's the most compelling information I know: Up to 17 percent of all Americans have eczema and of those, 90 percent had their first and possibly worst cases by the age of 5. Think about how many people may have experienced this condition and almost all of them had to deal with it at the same time they were being potty trained, starting preschool, and otherwise joining the outside world. Just the thought of how vulnerable we are makes me feel like crying.

In order to get the best Girlfriends' advice on eczema, I've not only talked with other moms, read everything I could find on the Internet (there's a lot there, by the way), and consulted hundreds of my mommy e-mail friends, but I've also consulted with a pediatric dermatologist and expert on eczema (and now my new girlfriend), Dr. Adelaide Hebert, professor and vice chairman of the department of dermatology at the University of Texas Health Sciences Center in Houston. So, while most of my information is anecdotal -- as it always is in the Girlfriends' Guides -- I'm reasonably assured by Dr. Hebert that nothing I'm saying is bad advice or just plain silly.

There is so much confusing and misleading information out there about eczema. One person tells you to rub your child's rash with petroleum jelly, someone else tells you petroleum products are dangerous, someone else tells you to teach your 2-year-old to give up baths and take only showers, while others tell you the condition comes from not keeping your little darling clean enough.

I have four kids who all went through stages of eczema and I barely survived some of them. If I'd only known with the first two what I learned by the third and fourth kid, I'd have a lot more tread left on my mothering tires. With the first two, I tried Calamine and Camouflage; in other words, I painted my little sufferers pink at night and dressed them in clothes that hid the condition by day. And if one had a flare-up on his or her face, then I'd just apply a Halloween mask or keep the kid home from school -- anything to avoid the stares of the other perfect mothers.

Well gather 'round Girlfriends (and Dads too) because people who've been there, done that are here to give you the skinny on what my daughter used to call "The Itchy Scratchy Disease." Here's some help and encouragement to get you and your child through the rough spots (no pun intended).

How to Treat Eczema
How to Treat Eczema

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