Eczema

Eczema

Eczema is a dry skin condition. It cannot be cured but it can usually be controlled.

Key points to remember

  • eczema is a dry skin condition
  • eczema can usually be controlled through the use of moisturising creams and steroid creams
  • eczema is not catching (contagious)
  • avoid things which irritate the skin, especially soap
  • go to your family doctor as soon as possible if your child's eczema gets worse or becomes infected

See the eczema care video series

3 easy steps and moisturisers ...

Video thumbnail image showing hands Video thumbnail image showing family ina  consultation with a doctor

... bathing and steroids ...

Video thumbnail image showing 2 children in bath and mum pouring water over one child's headVideo thumbnail image showing a mother and her child

What is eczema?

  • eczema is a dry skin condition that causes the skin to become red (inflamed) and itchy
  • it usually begins early in childhood

What causes eczema?

The skin of people with eczema is more sensitive to irritants (such as soap) and more at risk of infection.

A child is more likely to develop eczema if there is a family history of eczema, asthma or hayfever.

How long can eczema last?

Eczema can be controlled with treatment and by avoiding 'triggers'.

Eczema can be controlled with treatment and by avoiding things which can trigger your child's eczema.

There is a good chance that your child's eczema will improve or disappear as they get older.

What puts my child at risk of getting eczema?

  • eczema occurs in about 15 to 20 percent of children
  • children with eczema are more likely to develop allergies
  • it runs in families and often goes hand in hand with asthma and hayfever

What are the signs and symptoms of eczema?

  • when a child has eczema, their skin feels dry and rough to touch, and it is itchy
  • the skin can become inflamed (looks red), and may even get infected (gets weepy), particularly with scratching
  • in babies, the rash often involves the face
  • in older children, the skin in the creases of the knees and elbows, around the neck and on the hands is often affected
  • in some children, the skin over the entire body is affected
  • at times your child's skin will look good and at other times it gets worse - this is part of eczema and not caused by bad care

Baby with eczemaEczema in elbow crease

How can I manage my child's eczema?

You can easily manage most eczema at home.

Keep skin moisturised

  • don't use soap in the bath - you can use moisturisers (for example, non ionic cream) instead of soap
  • use moisturisers several times a day all over the body and face - moisturisers can help keep eczema away
  • you can get moisturisers for eczema from your doctor

Treat red itchy skin 

  • when the skin is red and itchy (inflamed), apply steroid creams once a day just to the red itchy areas
  • when the inflammation has gone away, you can stop using steroid creams, but keep using moisturisers everyday
  • if the steroid cream does not make the inflammation better in 2 weeks, see your doctor
  • you can get steroid creams from your doctor
  • your doctor may recommend adding antiseptic to the bath or antibiotic medicine

Avoid triggers and treat infection

Removing foods from your child's diet does not usually help eczema. 

  • soap and fragrances are the most common triggers of eczema - only use skin care products designed for eczema, many are available on prescription from your doctor
  • eczema is made worse by infection such as school sores (impetigo) - see the school sores page for advice on how to prevent this
  • the cold sore virus can cause severe painful infection of eczema – avoid contact with cold sores, and see your family doctor urgently if infection occurs

Removing foods from your child's diet does not usually help eczema. Please discuss with your doctor .

For information about managing and treating your child's eczema, see:

Eczema care: 3 easy steps

Can't see this video on YouTube? Try viewing it on Vimeo

Video transcript

Are there likely to be any complications of eczema?

Baby with infected eczema

Children with eczema are more likely to get skin infections.

Eczema makes the skin dry and cracked and increases the chance of infection by bacteria and viruses (especially the cold sore virus). Infected eczema may be wet, crusted or painful. See your doctor for treatment.

If your child's eczema gets worse or becomes infected, you will need to take them to your doctor. Sometimes, a hospital stay may be necessary.

Images of eczema on this page have been reproduced, with permission, from the website of the New Zealand Dermatological Society Incorporated. Published online at: www.dermnetnz.org.

This page last reviewed 13 January 2016.
Email us your feedback


On this page