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The Girlfriends' Guide to Pediatric Eczema: Prevention Methods

Perhaps the greatest gift you can give your child, not to mention yourself, is a feeling of control over this condition. Like Superman or Wonder Woman, your child can be the boss of eczema with a good plan. Sit down with your little itchy scratcher and together make a plan for how your Super Team will vanquish the worst parts of eczema. I'm providing a sample, but if your child feels that every doctor's visit should be followed by a trip to the ice cream store, make sure you write that down, too!

1. Start with a visit to the doctor.

  • Be prepared to answer questions about your family's medical history. Recall the first time you noticed eczema symptoms in your child, and if the flare-ups seem to be predictable in any way, like being more common in winter than in summer. Also, be prepared to discuss all the allergies or sensitivities that you may have noticed in your child. Prepare a list of medications that your little one is currently taking. You should also list medications that have been tried previously, but have not helped your child's eczema.
  • Bring a list of questions, both yours and your child's, to ask the doctor. Some good questions might be: "Is medication appropriate?" "What medical options are there?" "Is one kind of soap or detergent better for people with eczema?"
  • Let the doctor know that you and your child intend to stay active in your control of eczema and you'll be checking in regularly with him or her.
  • Remember, while children often outgrow eczema, there is no cure; so all members of the team have to be prepared to stay on top of it. It's not something to be diagnosed once and never checked again.

2. Clean out your child's closet.

  • All sorts of irritating and rough clothing can trigger eczema, as my daughter let me know from the time she could slip out of a shirt alone. Some kids are sensitive to wool, latex, or the polyester thread used in tags. Cut out all labels and try to buy clothes without exposed elastic. As for spandex, leave it in the '70s where it belongs.
  • Just as we mothers always suspected, cotton clothes are the best, in all seasons. Layer clothing in colder weather so that your child stays warm, but doesn't feel like she's wearing a sauna suit. Just remember, for safety reasons, children's pajamas must be flame retardant, so if you pick all-cotton loungewear for them to sleep in, it will not have that protection.
  • Ruffles and tight waistbands can also aggravate sensitive skin.

3. Make some simple changes to your child's room.

  • Turn down the thermostat to a comfortable level in wintertime and add another cotton blanket to the bed. Overheated rooms can be overly dry and over-dry rooms can cause kids to have itchy skin.
  • Consider moving the stuffed animal collection to the playroom or into storage (just keeping the most precious ones around). Stuffed animals hold massive amounts of dust that can be a trigger.
  • Invest in a humidifier. Hey, if supermodels can't live without them, why should your little angel? It's that dry skin thing again.

4. Create a special bathtime ritual.

  • A lukewarm -- not hot -- bath is best. Avoid bubbles; not only are they possible irritants to the skin but to little girls' urinary tracts.
  • Use mild soap or nonsoap cleansers.
  • Try an oatmeal bath treatment when your child has a flare-up.
  • Keep the bath on the short side -- no need for pruneyfingered soaks.
  • Blot -- don't rub -- dry with a towel, and while the skin is still warm and steamy (usually within three minutes) rub in some "high-octane" moisturizer. Don't forget the face!
  • If your child is using a topical prescription medication, apply it to the warm and steamy skin BEFORE you apply the moisturizers. Just remember, the whole idea is to literally trap the bath moisture in the child's skin to keep it nice and dewy.
  • Twice a week, cut your sweetie's fingernails. Do it right after the moisturizing session, while the nails are soft from the bath. Long nails break the skin when the kids scratch and can cause infection.
  • Skip the perfume and powders. If your little one just can't live without a sweet smell enveloping her, sprinkle a little talc on her bedsheets.

5. Encourage your child to educate teachers and classmates about eczema (I simply can't hammer this nail enough).

  • This is not something to be suffered in silence. Teaching others more about this condition empowers your child and informs others.
  • Many classes have a special time each week for kids to share feelings and resolve conflicts. This would be a safe and protected time for your child to talk about her eczema and how she feels about it. The other kids can ask her questions, too.
  • Take a cue from your child and talk to the other parents in his class or playgroup. Trust me, you'll have mothers crying with gratitude for helping them to help their own children with eczema.

6. Help your child find a way to release stress and pent-up energy every day.

  • Stress is a common trigger for eczema. (I used to get flare-ups in college at finals time, and now it's part of my PMS package so I know of what I speak.) Playing tag, shooting baskets, catching a ball, or jumping rope may help your child avoid a flare-up and if you play too, could help you drop a couple of pounds.
  • A child who feels athletic has a better body image than a couch potato, and we all know any child could use that, whether they have eczema or not.
  • Some parents try to keep their kids out of swimming pools all summer in an effort to avoid the drying effects of chlorine and the sting of most sunscreens on eczema skin. Dr. Hebert and I suggest they rethink this. First of all, the chlorine can actually reduce some of the topical bacteria that can collect on the skin. You can minimize the drying effects of chlorine by taking a shower immediately after the plunge, followed by the moisturizing ritual that we so heartily recommend after a bath. And as for the sunblock sting, Dr. Hebert and I recommend sunscreens and blocks that contain only one active ingredient, titanium dioxide; these are very effective and don't hurt sensitive skin.

7. Check in with your child's doctor at the onset of a flare-up or every six months.

  • Tell your doctor if you suspect a skin infection. There is a heightened risk to eczema sufferers of contracting a bacterial or viral infection such as fever blisters/cold sores from other kids, as well as warts and a condition my older daughter got called molluscum, which is like patches of tiny blisters. The doctor might prescribe antibacterial or antiviral drugs at this time.
  • Discuss whether you've noticed any other sensitivities or allergic-type symptoms in your child. Two of my four also had terrible hay fever and one had asthma.
  • Tell your doctor if your child's sleep is seriously disrupted by the itching of a flare-up. They may recommend an antihistamine that has a drowsy effect. (See if they suggest you take one, too! After all, you're more sleep deprived than anyone else in the family.)

8. Remind your precious one that you are on his superhero team 24-7.

  • Avoid the temptation to get lax about the game plan or to rely too much on your child's own initiative. I still have to remind my 14-year-old son to trim his nails and use a moisturizer.
  • Don't think that just because they aren't talking about their eczema, they aren't thinking about it. Without sounding like a broken record, remember to check in with your child every few weeks, especially during a flare-up, to see how they're feeling. If necessary, bring out the crayons and paper again.
  • Believe in the magic power of ritual. Once you've got the bathtime routine down pat, it will have a hypnotic effect on your child, cross my heart. Don't break the magic spell by being inconsistent.

9. Remember, there have been great advances in the treatment of this disease to help you win the battle against eczema!

  • I have had a dermatologist of my own since my first case of acne and now that botox is all the rage, I continue to keep up our close relationship. Somehow, however, I was very slow to grasp the value of a professional's help in dealing with my kids' skin problems. (Of course, that breast milk expression suggestion did set me back at least a decade.) Now, if I leave you with only one message, it's to see your pediatrician, a dermatologist or an allergist as soon as you suspect eczema. It could change your life, and your child's.

Vicki Iovine began her writing career after the birth of her fourth child in six years with the publication of The Girlfriends' Guide to Pregnancy. This book struck a chord among women who found maternity an altered state, and Vicki soon became a regular contributor on such shows as "The Today Show," "Oprah," and "The View." She has since published The Girlfriends' Guide to Pregnancy Daily Diary; The Girlfriends' Guide to Surviving the First Year of Motherhood; The Girlfriends' Guide to Toddlers; and The Girlfriends' Guide to Getting Your Groove Back. Vicki has also been an advice columnist for Child magazine for five years. And with nearly 20 years of marriage under her belt, she regularly contributes articles to Redbook as the "Marriage Advisor" on the mysteries of the man/woman thing. Most recently, Vicki has sold a feature film screenplay to Twentieth Century Fox.

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The information on this Web site is designed for educational purposes only. It's not intended to be a substitute for informed medical advice or care. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat any health problems or illnesses without consulting your pediatrician or family doctor. Please consult a doctor with any questions or concerns you might have regarding your or your child's condition.