Eczema: School and Activities

What is eczema (atopic dermatitis)?

Atopic dermatitis is a chronic (long-lasting) skin condition that comes in many forms. It is also called eczema.

Teacher helping student Teacher helping student

With eczema, the skin becomes dry, very itchy and rash may appear. There are usually times when the condition is worse, and times when the condition is better. When the condition worsens, this is called a flare-up. Flare-ups often occur in the winter months when the air is drier, but it can happen any time throughout the year.

Eczema at daycare and school

If your child goes to daycare, talk to the daycare staff and to parents of other children that attend the daycare about eczema. Explain that your child has this condition and that it will not spread to other children.

School can cause a great deal of stress in children with eczema. By the time children attend grade school, they are old enough to realize that their skin is different from other children's. Parents, family members and teachers should understand the stress that these children experience and that they may need more emotional support and understanding.

Talk to your child about diversity, bullying and acceptance

Talk to your children about eczema and address topics such as diversity, bullying at school and acceptance. Children with eczema often have to endure hurtful comments from other children, even when they are young.

They may feel:

  • uncomfortable in social situations
  • self-conscious about their skin
  • their itching and rashes may affect their school and social situations and may lead to sleep loss.
Remind your child that:
  • They are not to blame for their eczema.
  • It is not due to bad hygiene.
  • They cannot spread eczema to other children.

Talk to your child's teacher

Speak to your child's teachers about eczema and try to work together to help make school easier for your child. It may be hard for a child with eczema to sit still or not scratch when they are always itchy. The teacher should understand why a child is always scratching, fidgeting or not paying attention.

Your child may feel tired, drowsy or have a hard time getting up in the morning. The constant itching and physical discomfort may keep your child up at night, causing a lack of sleep . Eczema may interfere with your child's concentration and learning because of the constant itching or lack of sleep.

Steps to take to decrease flare-ups at school

Certain steps can be taken to help decrease the chance of eczema flare-ups at school:

  • You may want to ask the teacher to seat the child away from sources of heat such as sunny windows, radiators and air vents.
  • You may want to ask if a cotton alternative would be okay for school uniforms.
  • Certain activities in the classroom may make the symptoms of eczema worse, such as using glue, paint, clay, foods, wood and metal. You may want to speak to the teacher about using different materials if these particular activities worsen your child's eczema. To avoid any flare-up because of these materials, make sure your child is allowed to go wash their hands after any activity.
  • Talk to the physical education teacher to see if certain activities need to be adapted to your child's needs.
  • Also, make sure the school is aware of all food allergies that your child has. Make sure your child is aware of what to avoid.
  • If your child needs daytime moisturizing, have a doctor's note allowing your child or a nurse to apply it at school.

Physical activities and playing

It is important that your child is able to participate in their regular activities as much as they can. Your child's eczema may interfere with some of these activities. Excessive sweating can be a problem and can lead to irritation and itching of the skin. When playing or doing any type of physical activity, it is important to stay cool. If your child has a flare-up, it might be a good idea to lessen activities that would lead to a lot of sweating.

Have your child wear loose-fitting cotton clothing. Cotton is good because it is resistant to dust mites and it allows for better air circulation. Cotton also helps to remove and absorb body moisture, helping to draw heat away from the skin and helps keep the body cool and dry.

Timing may be a factor in the activities that your child chooses to participate in. For example, playing outdoor sports later in the day, closer to the evening, may be helpful. At that time of day the temperature has decreased and the sun is not as strong, making it easier to stay cool.


Swimming is a good sport for children with eczema because they sweat less. Many parents are concerned that the chlorine in the water can be very drying and irritating to the skin. Bromine and salt water pools can also be irritating. However, by following these steps, you can help reduce the irritation caused by swimming pools:

  • Apply a layer of Vaseline to your child's body before they go swimming. Once your child has a layer of Vaseline applied, they can play and swim in the water. If the pool is outdoors, use sunscreen as a protective layer on your child's skin. Keep in mind that in most pool a cleansing shower is required before entering the pool so apply the protective layer after.
  • Check your child's skin after about 30 minutes to one hour to see if there is any irritation or redness. If irritation appears, rinse your child's skin off well in the shower. You can then reapply a new layer of Vaseline (or sunscreen). Your child can then return to playing and swimming in the pool.
  • After swimming, rinse your child's skin in the shower and then bathe your child. After bathing, apply your child's regular medicine if needed followed by moisturizer. If the water in the pool is warm, your child's skin will always look redder. Your child may look as though their eczema is getting worse, but it is not.


Key points

  • Atopic dermatitis (eczema) is a chronic skin condition that comes in many forms. Skin becomes dry and very itchy and a rash may appear. There will be times when the skin is worse or better.
  • Talk to your child's teacher about eczema. Explain that it cannot spread to other children and that it may be hard for your child to sit still and not scratch.
  • Discuss options for decreasing the chance of an eczema flare-up with your child's school.
  • Your child can swim and do other physical activities. There are steps you can take to reduce the chance of eczema flare-ups.

Miriam Weinstein, MD, FRCPC

Jackie Su, RN


DermNet NZ. []. Hamilton, New Zealand: DermNet NZ; 2008