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 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
What is eczema?
- eczema is a dry skin condition that causes the skin to become inflamed (red) 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 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 behind 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
See Acknowledgements for these images.
How can I manage my child's eczema?
Most eczema can be easily managed at home.
- keep the skin moisturised
- don't use soap in the bath - you can use moisturisers (for example, non ionic cream) instead of soap
- put on 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 (inflammation)
- when the skin is red and itchy 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
- 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 impetigo 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
- treat infection
- avoid triggers
For information about managing and treating your child's eczema, see:
- Caring for your child's eczema - a pamphlet from the Eczema Clinical Network of the Paediatric Society of New Zealand
Eczema care: 3 easy steps
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Are there likely to be any complications of 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 virus (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.