My mom suffers from eczema. Actually calling her skin condition eczema is like calling the Sistene Chapel a painting: somewhat of an understatement. I’ve been blessed to never suffer much from eczema myself, yet unfortunate enough to see the effects of it in its worst form. Whenever my daughter, Ameli, develops as much as a spot, my heart skips a beat and my stomach clenches and I watch the redness till it goes away, so afraid am I that this condition may have skipped a generation and passed on to her.
Any regular reader here will know that I generally go in for natural products, choosing herbs over medication more often than not. I choose breastfeeding as a natural immune booster, and I solved Ameli’s baby eczema and cradle cap by slathering on the breast milk. But that doesn’t mean conventional medicine is entirely without merit: sometimes, outside help is recommended and required.
I attended the launch of Against Childhood Eczema, and wanted to share some of the key points from the talks by Margaret Cox from the National Eczema Society and Dr Steve Hewitt, a skin specialist for E45
Cox gave an insightful look at eczema from the point of view of the patient (or sufferer, I would have said). Her two main points were that there are a lot of people suffering from eczema – no one is alone in this, and secondly that although the condition is not curable, it is treatable.
According to Cox, one in five children in the UK suffers from eczema, with the numbers having increased three-fold in the last 30 years. Although two-thirds of children will grow out of it, the unlucky final third will suffer into adulthood.
The reasons behind this rise are not specifically known, but among the many potential causes are obsessive cleanliness, sterilisation, bath products containing harmful chemicals, weather extremes, air conditioning and heating, sun exposure, bad diets, lack of moisturisation and hereditary factors. Also, people who are deficient in Filaggrin (filament-associated proteins which bind to keratin fibres in epithelial cells) are more prone to eczema and asthma.
Cox also spoke of the emotional impact of childhood eczema, and the stress that unpredictability about flareups and uncertainty about their duration can cause. The direct impact on children, such as the inability to swim or play outdoors, is emotionally taxing, only made worse by the stigma of other children thinking they’re contagious, and teasing them. (See the National Eczema Society website for free downloadable packs to help teachers and schools understand the condition.)
Dr Hewitt, meanwhile, stated that most GPs typically only spent a few days focusing on eczema in their medical training. This is a frighteningly inadequate when you consider that around a third of the patients they will see suffer from some level of eczema. Most GPs also seem unaware that most prescribed emollients can be quite harmful to the skin.
Dr Hewitt also spoke about the commonality of infant eczema becoming childhood asthma, and leading to adult rhinitis.
The Against Childhood Eczema (ACE) campaign suggest five steps for parents of children suffering eczema to follow:
1. Bathing – Daily bathing can cause a child’s skin to dry out. Only bathe babies twice or three times a week for the first six months, the rest of the time just topping and tailing them. When you are bathing them, make sure to use fragrance-free bath oil and avoid bubble baths to help ward off irritation.
2. Emolient – Simple, non-cosmetic moisturisers that soothe and help relieve dry and itchy skin should be liberally applied, especially at night when skin is most metabolically active, causing it to heal better.
3. Massage – Emolient application can be distressing, especially during flareups, so try to make it as relaxing and enjoyable as possible, letting toddlers watch a DVD or sing songs to keep them calm. Always apply the emollient downwards (along the hair, rather than against it).
4. Frequency – Dermatologists suggest a â€˜complete emollient regime’ for treating dry skin. Use a soap substitute and a leave-on emollient two to three times a day, even when the eczema is under control.
5. Comfort – Create a calm atmosphere when applying creams. Don’t be stressed or worried as this will add to your child’s stress and worry, and cause the flareups to be worse.
I will leave you for now with the NICE guidelines for childhood eczema, and be back tomorrow with some hints and tips to help your child with eczema.