Although medicines play an important role in relieving symptoms, there are other crucial ways to prevent flare-ups.
Moisturizers. "They replace missing lipids and seal the skin off from external irritants," explains Dr. Shin. Apply one whenever your child comes out of the tub and after she goes swimming. Moisturizers can sting kids who have a bad case of eczema, so you'll have to experiment with different brands. The best over-the-counter choice: a thick ointment like petroleum jelly or Aquaphor. If your child complains that it feels too greasy, try an OTC cream such as TriCeram, which contains a natural oil found in the skin called ceramide. In the last few years, the FDA has also approved new prescription moisturizers, such as Atopiclair, which are made of fatty acids that form a strong barrier against the skin.
Taking baths. "Many parents mistakenly skip their child's bath because they are worried that the water will dry out his skin," says Dr. Nasir. However, bathing (for at least 10 minutes) actually keeps the skin hydrated and washes away germs that cause infections. Ideally, your child should take a bath and wash his hair right before bed, to get rid of any allergens or irritants that have accumulated on his skin or hair during the day. Bathing your child with oatmeal, such as Aveeno Bath, may also be soothing.
Comfortable clothing. Kids with eczema need to wear soft fabrics. "Cotton or light synthetic fabrics are more breathable than heavy fabrics or irritating wool," says Dr. Chamlin. "I advise parents to turn clothing inside out, when possible, so the seams and tags won't rub the skin." One new clothing line to try: DermaSmart, made of lightweight microfiber polyester. "The fabric also contains silver, which has anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties," explains Dr. Paller. "There haven't been many studies of these clothes, but parents say they seem to help." You can also put cotton gloves on your child's hands at night, to help keep her from scratching.
Fortunately, many babies with eczema improve by age 2, and about 40 percent of kids with eczema outgrow the condition by the time they're young adults. Until then, parents say, relief comes with the right therapies. "It took time and patience, but we finally found a treatment plan that works for Anthony," says Angela Quear. "Now we can both sleep through the night -- which is a real victory."