Expert Iconexpert advice MORE

Treating Eczema

Pediatrics Expert Advice from Henry Bernstein, M.D.

Q: My five-year-old daughter has eczema. It clears up in the summer, but in the winter it is terrible. She scratches all the time. Her body is all red with oozy patches. So far she is allergic to sulfites. They give her a steroid cream and an antibiotic. This is not working. Any suggestions? She has had this since she was six months.

A: Eczema is a type of reaction of the skin. There are many types of eczema that occur in children, with the allergic type being most common. You are describing "atopic" (allergic) eczema and certainly it can be quite problematic. Usually the acute areas involved are noted to be red, weeping, oozing, and some formation of fluid within the skin. Chronic or older lesions usually are thick, dry, and scaly with different changes in color (pigmentation).

The best treatment is to control the environmental things that irritate the disease, such as avoiding contact with things known to trigger itching and scratching. Garments should be smooth textured cotton, wool should be avoided. It is common in the winter months, particularly when the skin is in contact with woollen objects. As you point out, a warm climate of moderate humidity appears to be optimal for a majority of patients. Sweating can lead to itching and aggravate the disease. Exposure to sunlight and salt water is of benefit. Bathing should be kept to a minimum. You want to try to apply moisturizing creams to the skin to seal water into the skin. If it appears that a food or other ingestant makes itching worse, then the food must be excluded. We usually like to control the itching with an antihistamine, which can be helpful and also give a little sedation, particularly at night. Antibiotics are indicated when we think that it's secondarily infected. When infection is present, antibiotics should be given systemically (by mouth). The steroids help reduce the itching and the inflammation. Small amounts of steroid rubbed in infrequent intervals may get better results than large amounts applied infrequently. Usually, steroids by mouth are not required.

Unfortunately, we are not able to cure eczema, but certainly there are things like those described above that we can do to make her comfortable. You should also understand that recurrence is expected, so don't be surprised. Reasonable control can be achieved with the help of your daughter's physician who can give you a clear understanding of the disease and provide the support for you and your daughter that may make the difference.

More on: Expert Advice

Henry Bernstein, M.D., is currently the associate chief of the Division of General Pediatrics and director of Primary Care at Children's Hospital, Boston. He also has an academic appointment at Harvard Medical School.

Please note: This "Expert Advice" area of FamilyEducation.com should be used for general information purposes only. Advice given here is not intended to provide a basis for action in particular circumstances without consideration by a competent professional. Before using this Expert Advice area, please review our General and Medical Disclaimers.

stay connected

Sign up for our free email newsletters and receive the latest advice and information on all things parenting.

Enter your email address to sign up or manage your account.

Facebook icon Twitter icon Follow Us on Pinterest

editor’s picks


Join BIC on our mission to save handwriting and Fight For Your Write! Writing helps kids become better readers, boosts their confidence and sparks their creativity. Visit BICFightForYourWrite.com to sign our petition to save handwriting!

7 Tips for Reading Aloud to Babies & Toddlers
The AAP advises reading aloud to babies and toddlers because it boosts brain power and has many other benefits. Get some tips for making the most of story time with your tot!

Kindergarten Readiness App Wins Gold
Our Kindergarten Readiness app won the Gold Award of Excellence in the educational category at the 2014 Communicator Awards. This valuable checklist comes with games and activities to help your child practice the essential skills she needs for kindergarten. Download the Kindergarten Readiness app today!

How to Survive Summer Boredom
When the kids are home all day, every day, summer boredom strikes hard and fast. Learn the best summer boredom busters and tips for surviving until September.

12 Birthday Party Favors that Won't Get Thrown Away
The next time you're planning a birthday, forgo the penny candy and cheap toys. Send your guests home with one of these fun and creative party favor ideas!