COLUMN: Coping with eczema in children and adults

It's National Eczema Week from September 16 and although there is no known cure for this skin condition, The Montefiore Hospital's consultant dermatologist, Dr Paul Farrant, says there is a lot that can be done to bring relief.
Dr Paul FarrantDr Paul Farrant
Dr Paul Farrant

Eczema affects people of all ages but is common in children, with around one in five youngsters having the condition. Fortunately, half of children will have grown out of it by the time they reach five years old and 90 per cent by age 10. Parents will be advised by their health visitor on what to do if their baby develops eczema, but for older children and adults whose eczema keeps recurring, try these tips.

Avoid soap and soap-based products. Buy soap substitutes which will keep the moisture in the skin and create a barrier to irritants.

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Ideally, moisturise your skin several times a day. The most effective moisturisers are ointments, which have fewer preservatives than creams, but are stickier. To prevent staining clothes, opt for cream-based moisturisers during the day and apply a thick layer of ointment at night.

Scratching damages the skin so if the eczema becomes 'angry', apply a topical steroid to reduce the itchiness and give the skin a chance to heal. Topical steroids are best applied once daily at bedtime to the affected area only.

If your hands are in and out of water all day long, wear cotton gloves under protective gloves. Avoid biological washing powders, fabric conditioners and fragranced products. Wear natural fibres such as pure cotton, and if possible, silk, especially for underwear, nightclothes and bedlinen, as they absorb sweat and allow the skin to breathe. The National Eczema Society’s website has a list of recommended clothing stockists.

Eczema in children and food allergies: although many parents are concerned their child’s eczema is linked to certain foods, especially dairy products, it is advisable not to eliminate them from your child’s diet without first seeking advice.

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Children will naturally build up a tolerance to certain foods as they grow older, and it is important to keep calcium in their diet if possible. Allergy testing is usually reserved for children with very severe eczema.

Adults who have eczema that only effects certain areas may have developed a form of eczema called contact allergic eczema. Common allergens include nickel from cheap jewellery and preservatives in creams. This can be investigated with patch testing.

When to see your GP:

- Make an appointment with your GP if the eczema continues to be inflamed even after regular use of moisturisers and OTC steroids. You may be prescribed a higher strength steroid.

- If you have a flare up of eczema, the correct use of prescribed creams should bring it under control within seven to 10 days. Go back to your GP if your skin is not responding to medication after three weeks - you may be referred to a skin specialist.

What else can be done?

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Your dermatologist may offer a range of treatments, including phototherapy, wet wraps and medicines which suppress the immune system.

Next year, a new injection therapy could be coming to the UK.

Clinical trials have shown that 50 to 70 per cent of eczema sufferers respond very well to this new treatment.

Dr Paul Farrant, holds a clinic on Wednesdays at The Montefiore Hospital, Montefiore Road, Hove.

To find out more, visit or phone 01273 828 148.

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