The cold outdoors, combined with dry indoor heat, can be tough on children’s skin. Their skin can become dry, itchy, and irritated. The wintertime can be particularly demanding for children suffering with eczema.
What is Eczema?
Atopic dermatitis, or eczema as it is commonly referred to, is a skin condition that can cause the following symptoms:
- Skin that is raw and sensitive – especially on the arms and back of the knees
- Severe itching, which can be worse at night
- Red and inflamed patches on the skin
- Small, raised bumps on the skin that, if scratched, can ooze fluid, bleed, and scab over
- Thick, cracked, dry, and scaly patches on the skin
Eczema is common in children under the age of 5, but occurs in adults as well. Although its cause is unknown, environmental triggers such as pollen can cause flare-ups. It is thought that people with this condition have a problem with the upper layers of their skin tissue that makes it more sensitive than normal.
Why Does Winter Make Eczema Worse?
Eczema can flare up or worsen in the winter due to the drastic changes of temperature – from being outside in the cold, to coming indoors where heaters can dry out your skin.
Other factors can make eczema worse in the winter, too, such as wearing extra layers of clothing, which is less breathable and can dry the skin. Frequent or long hot baths can also dry the skin out.
Common triggers of eczema may include:
- Irritants in perfumed soaps, shampoo, bath products, and detergents
- Certain materials worn next to the skin, such as wool and synthetic materials that don’t allow the skin to breathe properly
- Allergens such as dust mites, pollen, and pet dander
- Food allergens such as peanuts, milk, soy, and wheat
Tips to Relieve Your Child’s Eczema
To relieve eczema, especially during winter months, there are a few things you can try.
Change your bathing routine. We are more likely to take hot baths in the wintertime to warm up after a day out in the cold – but children don’t actually need daily baths and showers. In fact, if a child suffers with eczema, frequent baths can actually increase water loss from the skin, making the skin’s dryness worse.
To prevent the skin from drying out excessively, the length of time your child spends in the bath should be limited to 5 to 10 minutes, and bath water shouldn’t be too hot. It may be helpful to add a moisturizer to the bath, but ensure you look for products that are kind to the skin and suitable for eczema sufferers because perfumed products or ones with lots of additives will dry out and irritate the skin further. After a bath or shower, try not to rub the skin with a towel as this can scratch and irritate eczema. Patting the skin dry instead helps to leave more moisture on the skin.
Rethink the products you use. If you or your child has eczema, you’ll want to avoid soaps, detergents, fabric softeners, and beauty or bath products with added ingredients such as fragrance, dyes, or chemicals, as these are more likely to strip skin of its protective natural oils and dry it out – making the eczema worse.
Moisturize regularly. Use thick emollients (which act as a protective barrier) or moisturizers at least once a day to reduce water loss from the skin and prevent the skin from becoming dry. Always use them straight after bathing, too, when the skin is still damp to seal in moisture and help replenish skin hydration. Your doctor may want to prescribe a hydrocortisone cream to help soothe the eczema and control itching.
Ensure you drink fluids regularly. This will keep the body hydrated from the inside out, meaning your skin will benefit, too. Water is the ideal drink, but if it’s a cold day, even a hot chocolate or other warm winter drink can help.
Use a humidifier in your home. This adds moisture to dry air. It is important to keep the humidifier maintained to avoid bacteria forming, so clean it regularly and change the water daily and consider using distilled water.
Talk to Your Doctor
If you believe your child may have eczema, then talk to your pediatrician who will be able to provide a diagnosis and recommend appropriate treatment options to keep your child healthy and comfortable.
Children’s Health Care of Massachusetts (CHC Mass) was the nation’s first community health center to open its doors in Boston, providing health services for low- and moderate-income families in the inner-city and isolated or rural communities. Child-centered and family-focused, CHC Mass is your family’s partner in health providing compassionate and personalized care for your child.
For a consultation about your child’s eczema or to schedule an appointment, call us at (978) 465-7121 or (978) 388-9880 in Newburyport, or (978) 373-6557 in Haverhill. We look forward to helping you and your family live a long, happy and healthy life together.