An Itchy Childhood Problem

Eczema, while it may seem similar to psoriasis, is actually quite different. It is also a disease that can leave a parent feeling helpless and frantic to find relief for their child.

Fortunately, eczema tends to be a disease of childhood – most kids outgrow this itchy problem. Unfortunately, they can be miserable until they do outgrow it.

There is little agreement in conventional medicine about causes and treatments for eczema beyond those offered by the drug companies – that is, antibiotics, corticosteroids, and antihistamines – all of which have undesirable side effects.

So, what can be done? Is there some natural substance or herb that will relieve the itch and help clear up the problem quickly?

Sadly, no. Eczema is a complicated condition, and there is not a simple solution.

Since there are so many things that can cause or contribute to the problem, there are a number of things that should be looked at when seeking relief. I’ll do my best to offer some places for a parent to start.

Allergies: Perhaps the first place to look is at diet – for dietary allergies and eczema seem to go together frequently. Food allergy testing can be very helpful, and a good-old-fashioned elimination / challenge diet can be revealing. Either form of food allergy testing – the high-tech blood-test or the elimination / challenge diet – will offer best results when interpreted with the assistance of a knowledgeable doctor. For little people, the elimination / challenge diet testing may be less distressing and challenging, though more time consuming, than the blood test. More information about food allergies can be found here.

Other allergies can trigger eczema symptoms as well. Pet dander, dust mites – anything which can trigger an allergic reaction – all should be carefully sought out and exposures reduced or eliminated if possible.

Sugar – Many scientists and dermatological researchers feel there is a strong connection between sugar intake and eczema symptoms. Many parents report that a sugar-free diet goes a long way toward lessening their child’s suffering. Sugar is well known to compromise immune function for several hours after ingestion, and sugar intake can contribute to both candida and bacterial overgrowths. For kids this means that fruit juices, sweetened cereals, sugary jams and jellies, syrups, and other sweet treats are a definite no-no. Moms, do your kids a favor and read the labels on foods: Cut out the high-fructose corn syrup, evaporated cane juice, natural cane sugar, or whatever other misnomer the Big Food Corporations use to disguise dextrose / sucralose / fructose / lactose – sugar. Your kids may complain at first that they are being deprived of their sugary junk, but if you persevere you will be rewarded with a big improvement in overall health and behavior as well as with reduced eczema symptoms.

Drugs and Alternatives: Conventional doctors will suggest antihistamine drugs – Benadryl is one popular suggestion – but these can be sedating and have other undesirable side effects. Grape Seed Extract is a far more natural choice with excellent antihistamine properties and no known side effects – it is well worth a try.

Often, after children have been prescribed a round or two of antibiotics (and what child hasn’t had antibiotics!) the normal intestinal flora (the good gut bugs that help us to digest and assimilate our foods) can be seriously compromised. A good probiotic like Suprema-Dophylus can help to restore this balance.

Bathing can dry the skin – and especially during the winter when kids are indoors (and not getting as dirty while playing) daily bathing may not be necessary. Brief baths (what we nurses call “top and tail”) using minimal soap may be all that’s needed. Brisk rubbing and scrubbing of irritated areas is definitely not what you should be doing –  try a brief gentle wash, using warm water not hot, mild unscented soaps,  gentle drying (blotting dry, not rubbing) and mild unscented moisturizers applied to the whole body to help keep that nice moist skin from drying out. Some parents have reported good results using zinc-oxide based creams such as diaper rash creams applied to irritated areas to promote healing. Just remember, as always, unscented is best!

Humidity – or more precisely a lack of humidity as can occur during the winter heating season – can be problematic. A whole-house humidifier can have whole-family benefits, but if that is not possible then a small humidifier wherever the child spends the most can be helpful. Even simple pans of water on or near heating sources can help increase humidity and provide relief.

Temperature – Many parents report that an overly-warm child is an itchy child – especially at night. A slightly cooler sleeping area, and not being heavily bundled may be helpful to reduce nighttime itching. Wool can be itchy even to those not sensitive to it – as can some synthetics. Cotton is often the best for children’s pajamas, and loose-fitting PJs can be more irritating than the snug-fitting knit variety.

Clothing and bedding should be washed in unscented detergents, and double-rinsed to ensure that no soaps remain to cause irritation. Dryer sheets and other softeners should be avoided since they impart potentially irritating scents and chemical residues to clothes.

Fingernails must be kept short and edges and corners rounded to prevent damage when the child scratches – and babies and children will scratch no matter how often you tell them not to! Clean mittens or socks to cover a baby’s hands can be helpful – but children may not be so tolerant and may be less likely to keep them on for long.

When scratching does happen, cool compresses to itchy areas can be soothing – this is nothing more complicated than just a washcloth soaked in cool water and wrung out and held to the area.

Finally, many parents report that stress plays a part in triggering or exacerbating symptoms – too busy a schedule, too many activities, stress at school or with homework – remember, kids need someone to talk to about stress. Also remember that your stress rubs off on your children! Try not to nag at them about scratching at the rashes and try to not be too stressed about the rashes themselves.

Eczema in kids can be a challenge – but with patience and perseverance almost every case can be improved.