What is eczema (atopic dermatitis)?
Atopic dermatitis (say: ay-TOP-ik dur-muh-TIE-tis) is a chronic (long-lasting) skin condition that comes in many forms. It is also called eczema (say: EK-zuh-muh or ek-ZEE-muh).
With eczema, the skin becomes dry and very itchy. There are usually times when the condition is worse, and times when the condition is better. When the condition worsens, we call this a flare-up. Flare-ups often occur in the winter months when the air is drier.
For more information, please read Eczema (Atopic Dermatitis).
Eczema at day care and school
If your child with eczema is a baby or toddler, talk to your day care staff and to parents of other children that attend the day care 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 these children experience and that these children may need more emotional support and understanding.
Talk 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
Remind your child that:
- He is not to blame for his eczema.
- It is not due to bad hygiene.
- He 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. When a child is always scratching, fidgeting, or not paying attention, the teacher should understand why. It may be hard for a child with eczema to sit still or not scratch when they are always itchy.
Your child may feel tired, drowsy, or have a hard time getting up in the morning. This is often due to lack of sleep during the night due to the constant itching and physical discomfort. 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.
- If there are school uniforms, you may want to ask if a cotton alternative would be okay.
- 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.
- 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 the child is aware of what to avoid.
- If daytime moisturizing is needed, have a doctor’s note giving permission to allow the child, teacher, or nurse to apply it at school.
Physical activities and playing
It is important that your child is able to participate in his regular activities as much as he 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 a hypoallergenic fabric, 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 therefore 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. This way the temperature has decreased and the sun is not as strong, making it easier to stay cool.
Many parents are concerned that their child with eczema cannot go swimming because the chlorine in the water can be very drying and irritating to the skin. Bromine and salt water pools can also be irritating. However, swimming is a good sport for children with eczema because they sweat less.
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 he goes swimming. Once your child has a layer of Vaseline applied, he can play and swim in the water.
- Check your child’s skin after about 30 minutes to 1 hour to see if there is any irritation or redness. If irritation appears, rinse your child's skin off well with water. You can then reapply a new layer of Vaseline. He can then return to playing and swimming in the pool.
- After swimming, rinse your child's skin with water and bathe him. After bathing, apply your child's regular medicine followed by moisturizer.
If the water in the pool is warm, your child's skin will always look redder because warmth makes the blood vessels in the skin dilate (expand). Your child may look as though his eczema is getting worse, but it is not.
- Atopic dermatitis (eczema) is a chronic skin condition that comes in many forms. There will be times when the skin is worse or better. Skin becomes dry and very itchy.
- 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.