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Eczema: Brief Version

What is eczema?

Eczema is a red, extremely itchy rash. The rash often starts on the cheeks at 2 to 6 months of age. The rash is mostly on the inside of elbows, wrists, and knees.

Eczema is a type of sensitive, dry skin that runs in families. Eczema is triggered by contact with things like soap or chlorine. Hot baths can also make it worse. In 30% of infants with eczema, flare-ups occur within 2 hours of eating certain foods such as cow's milk, eggs, or peanut butter.

How can I take care of my child?

  • Steroid creams

    Steroid creams are a way to treat the itch of eczema. Most children need 2 types of steroid creams: one preventive cream to treat mild itching and another stronger cream to stop a flare-up once it has started.

    Preventive steroid cream. Apply this cream as directed to any spot that itches. Also use it for mild flare-ups. After the rash quiets down, use it for another week. Always take the cream with you when you travel and make sure you buy more before you run out.

    Rescue steroid cream. Apply this cream as directed for severe itching or rash. Never apply this more powerful steroid cream to the face or genital area.

  • Moisturize the skin. Keeping skin from drying out prevents flare-ups. Your child should have one bath a day for 10 minutes. This helps the itching. Soaps make eczema worse. Young children usually do not need soap. Teenagers need a gentle soap such as Dove or Tone to wash under the arms, the genital area, and the feet.
  • Moisturizing cream. After the bath, apply a cream such as Eucerin or Cetaphil. Put on the cream within 3 minutes after the bath to trap the moisture in the skin.
  • Antihistamine medicine.

    An antihistamine medicine is needed at bedtime for itching that is keeping your child from getting to sleep or causes your child to wake up during the night.

How can I prevent eczema?

Wear clothes made of cotton. Avoid scratchy clothes. Do not overdress your child. Avoid triggers that cause eczema to flare up, such as too much heat or cold, sweating, dry air (use a humidifier), chlorine, swimming pools, harsh chemicals, and soaps. Never use bubble bath.

Call your child's doctor right away if:

  • The rash looks infected and your child has a fever.
  • The rash flares up after contact with fever blisters.

Call your child's doctor during office hours if:

  • The rash becomes raw and open in several places.
  • The rash looks infected (red streaks, pus, yellow scabs) but without a fever.
  • The rash hasn't improved after 2 days of treatment.
  • You have other concerns or questions.
Written by Barton D. Schmitt, MD, author of “My Child Is Sick,” American Academy of Pediatrics Books.
Pediatric Advisor 2019.4 published by Change Healthcare.
Last modified: 2011-09-14
Last reviewed: 2018-07-13
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2018 Barton D. Schmitt, MD FAAP. All rights reserved.
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