Help for Austin Kids with Itchy Skin

December 2, 2014  | By Venessa Peña-Robichaux, MD

Help for Austin Kids with Itchy SkinWith winter upon us here in Austin, I’m sure all of you parents out there who have kids with eczema know that this is the time of the year when things can get real itchy real fast.  Parents, fear not!  Although I can’t promise you that your kids will be completely symptom free over these next cooler months, I have some great tips to try to help keep your kids less dry, less red and less itchy.

For most children with eczema, symptoms tend to get worse over the winter and this is due to the fact that our skin tends to get much dryer when it is colder outside – heaters get turned on, we take hotter showers, there is cooler wind outside, and we tend to dress in thicker more irritating fabrics.  All of these factors contribute to the removal of more moisture from our skin, and for children with eczema dryer skin means more flare-ups.

To help combat eczema flare-ups during the colder months there are many things parents can do with their children that can help keep their skin under better control.

Moisturize, Moisturize, Moisturize!!

Eczema is a genetic condition that is caused by a defect in the skin barrier.  Normally our skin acts to keep out all bad things in the environment around us – bacteria, allergens, etc.  It also acts to retain moisture.  People who have eczema have an inherited defect in this natural skin barrier meaning that things from the environment get into the skin more easily (causing activation of the immune system and inflammation) and moisture is not retained in the skin as easily.  This is why moisturizing regularly is very important.  Applying moisturizes to the skin on a regular basis helps to repair the natural skin barrier.  Over the winter months this is especially important.  When I recommend moisturizers to patients I usually say the same thing – the greasier and thicker the moisturizer the better.  Moisturizers that have more oil in them (called ointments) are the best for repairing the skin barrier; these include moisturizers like local favorite Climb On Creme, Vaseline, Aveeno Healing Ointment, Aquaphor, or even Crisco (yes, I have one mother that swears by this).  Some people are not fans of greasy ointments, so if this is the case the next best thing would be creams, which contain more oil than lotions.  I usually recommend any moisturizing cream by Aveeno, Neutrogena or Eucerin.  Many parents ask how many times they should be applying moisturizers on their children with eczema.  During the winter months it really should be done at a minimum of three times a days, but really what I tell most parents is AS MUCH AS YOU CAN!

Use a Humidifier

When it’s cold outside we tend to crank up our heaters.  This is not necessarily a bad thing except for the fact that the heat blowing into our homes tends to be a dry heat. In addition, we all tend to take baths and showers that are a little hotter than normal.  These things in combination can dry out skin more than usual and for people with eczema this can lead to more flare-ups more often.  It’s not practical to ask people to not turn up their heat or to take cold showers during the winter – that would be torture!  Rather, one thing you can do is try to place humidifiers throughout the house, especially in places like the bedroom where your child with eczema sleeps.  Humidifiers add moisture to the air and can help prevent over dryness of skin.  Most good humidifiers are reasonably priced (range $20-$40) and are worth the investment.

Take Baths

At one time it was thought that children with eczema should bathe less because frequent bathing could strip essential oils from the skin and potentially worsen eczema.  We now know that this is not necessarily true and most dermatologists now agree that people with eczema should bathe daily for several reasons.  Wetting the skin actually adds moisture to the skin (as long as you do not bathe with very hot water) and can help increase delivery of moisturizers and topical steroids on the skin – when kids have wet slightly pruney looking skin right after a bath this is the BEST time to put on moisturizers/topical medications because they absorb much better!  Also using a moisturizing soap like Dove can help clean germs and allergens off of skin without causing excess dryness like regular soaps can.  For kids who have eczema flare-ups often, I always recommend bleach baths or “swimming pools baths” at least 1-3 times a week.  Over 90% of children with eczema are colonized with staph bacteria.  Simply bathing in a very dilute chlorinated water (1/2 cup of bleach in a tub of water filled about 1 foot) a few times a week can help to keep the bacteria count down and keep eczema in better control.  If you have access to a chlorinated swimming pool have your children swim around a few times a week and this works just as well!   

Avoid Irritating Clothing

Wintertime usually means time for sweaters.  Sweaters are not the enemy and are often a necessity, but it’s important to be aware that winter clothing tends to be heavier and can be made of itchy and irritating material like wool.  For some children, sweating can make their eczema worse.  It’s important to dress your children who have eczema in clothing that will keep them warm but not overheat them and prevent them from itching.  That means trying to avoid winter clothing made of thick rough material.  The key is to try dressing your children in layers with lighter materials like cotton; this way when they get to a heated place like school, for example, they can remove some layers and be comfortable.  We all remember that one kid in class who hated wearing that itchy sweater all day!

Control Symptoms with Medications as Needed

When eczema is flaring it gets redder and itchier and can drive you and your child nuts.  The problem is that once the itch-scratch cycle starts it’s very difficult to stop – it itches, they scratch, they scratch, they itch, etc, etc, etc. The more kiddos scratch and symptoms are not controlled, the greater the chance for getting a skin infection.  It’s important to use prescribed medications like topical steroids and oral antihistamines to help control symptoms and get things better faster. Topical steroids are safe to use on children. However, their main side effect is potentially permanent thinning of the skin, so parents should apply them according to physician instructions. Antihistamines can also be helpful, especially at night when itching tends to be worse.

During the winter, an eczema flare-up can creep up on you fast so don’t wait to see if things will get better on their own. Book an appointment with us to make sure your child’s eczema gets a thorough check-up. Between these DIY tips and prescription medications, your child should be able to sleep soundly this winter in Austin.

Looking for more skincare advice to help your kids? Read these Pediatric Skincare FAQs.

Venessa Peña-Robichaux, MD
Venessa Peña-Robichaux, MD is a dermatologist specializing in the treatment of pediatric and adult skin conditions. A Texas native and fluent in Spanish, Dr. Peña-Robichaux received her medical degree from Harvard Medical School and is a graduate of Rice University with a degree in Biology, cum laude. Dr. Peña-Robichaux trained in pediatric medicine during her preliminary year at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She then completed her dermatology residency at Henry Ford Health System in Detroit, Michigan, and is Board Certified by the American Board of Dermatology.