Eczema Myths & The Facts
Eczema Myths & The Facts
Check out some common myths about eczema and find out the facts.
Myth: You can catch eczema
Fact: The reality is that eczema is a genetic problem - the environment is also a factor. The outside layer of skin has micro-cracks that can let moisture out. Inflammation happens and that leads to skin that may look red, flaky and can be weepy. You can't catch eczema and you cannot pass it on to someone else.
If the skin has open sores or blisters that have become infected, then this can spread to other people.
Myth: It's just a skin problem, isn't it? Eczema is not serious
Fact: Eczema can have a huge impact on your child's quality of life:
- lack of sleep for your child and your family
- it is painful as well as itchy
- there can be embarrassment, teasing and bullying
- your child may not be able to join in normal activities such as sport
Myth: Topical steroids are unsafe and you should use them sparingly
Fact: Your child needs these when eczema is flaring (red and itchy). You generally use these creams or ointments once daily. The aim is to calm the inflamed skin.
Using the skin steroid too thinly (sparingly) may lead to not calming the rash. Put enough of the cream or ointment on all rashes.
Myth: Moisturiser alone will work
Fact: When there is flared (red and itchy) eczema skin, this needs the help of skin steroids.
Moisturisers are also very important. Make sure to put them on skin at least in the morning and evening. Smoothe them on in the direction that hair grows.
Myth: Any moisturiser will work
Fact: Moisturisers may contain many ingredients. Some of these may in fact make eczema worse.
Use a simple cream or ointment, rather than a lotion and avoid ingredients that come from foods.
Myth: Bathing too frequently will make eczema worse
Fact: Bathing usually causes no problems and is very important for your child with eczema. Bathing washes off germs, dirt and can help to keep moisture in the skin (hydrate the skin).
It's best to bath daily in warm water. Avoid soap or bubble bath. Always use a soap-free product to wash the skin.
It is also important to put moisturiser on straight after the bath.
Myth: Bleach baths are not appropriate for children
Fact: Bleach baths are very safe when used in the right way. They decrease germs sitting on skin with eczema.
Using the right bleach and the right amount is important.
Myth: You should not go swimming
Fact: Spending too much time in water can make eczema worse. This is especially true if your child's skin is flaring (red and itchy). But, when your child has clearer skin, they can try swimming. It often causes no problems.
It's good for children to be confident in water.
Always moisturise before swimming. Don't spend too long in the water. Get out and have a fresh-water wash off. Moisturise again.
Myth: A family history of eczema means baby will have it also
Fact: Eczema is more likely when there is a family member with eczema but not all these children will develop eczema.
A child may get eczema even when they don't have a parent with eczema.
Myth: Eczema can be cured
Fact: There is no single treatment that can make eczema go away permanently. Good skin care is the main focus of managing eczema. Eczema is a long-lasting (chronic) condition. It is likely to go through changes at different stages of life.
Myth: It's an allergic reaction
Fact: Eczema is caused by the outside layer of skin not being made properly. Several things can make eczema flares worse. These include: dust, soaps or pollens, and sometimes food, passing into the skin, causing it to get red and inflamed. These are irritants which flare the skin - this is not an allergy.
Myth: Stopping a food, or changing the diet should help
Fact: Stopping a food (food avoidance) will not necessarily improve eczema. Doctors and nurse specialists do not generally advise food avoidance. Good skin care is the focus of managing eczema.
Talk to your doctor or nurse specialist before withdrawing food from your child’s diet if your child:
- has a diagnosis of food allergy, or
- has severe eczema which doesn't respond to topical treatment (treatment on the skin)
Myth: My child cannot use sunblock because of their eczema
Fact: Having eczema and protecting against the harsh sun in New Zealand can be challenging. But, it is still important to use protection.
Wearing protective clothing and seeking shade from the sun is the most important part of suncare for all children, not just those with eczema. But, when full coverage is not possible, use sunblock.
When choosing a sunblock for children with eczema, choose one that is broad spectrum. Broad spectrum protects against both UVA and UVB rays. Choose a sunblock that has a high SPF (50 or greater).
The following sunscreens are generally less irritating to the skin:
- sunscreens that are branded for sensitive skin or
- mineral based sunscreens, containing zinc oxide or titanium dioxide
A cream is often best. Lotions and sprays can contain alcohols which are likely to sting. It is also a good idea to patch test a new product before putting it on large areas of skin.
When putting on sunscreen:
- use plenty
- put it on 30 minutes after your child's regular moisturiser, and 30 minutes before going out in the sun
- put on more sunscreen every 2 hours, or after swimming and sweating
Myth: Infections are a normal part of eczema and cannot be prevented
Fact: Children with eczema do have an increased risk of skin infections. This is because their skin barrier does not work well.
Staph (Staphylococcus aureus) infections and viruses like the cold sore virus (herpes simplex) can be common. But, good management of the skin can reduce the risk. This includes:
- avoiding triggers
- regular bathing
- regular moisturisers
- the use of steroids as needed
Other ways to reduce the risk include:
- bleach baths - these can help lower the number of bacteria living on the skin
- using a clean spoon to scoop out moisturiser from the tub, or using a pump bottle - your fingers can contaminate the moisturiser
Signs of infection can include:
- increasing redness
- weeping and crusting
- yellow or white headed pimples
Infection will make eczema much harder to manage. Your child may need antibiotics from your doctor or nurse.
Myth: There is little I can do to stop the itch in my child with eczema
Fact: Dry skin in children with eczema causes itch and makes the skin more open to allergens and irritants. When a child scratches the skin, it makes the itch worse.
There are ways which can break the itch-scratch cycle. These include:
- keeping the skin well moisturised
- using cold compresses
- on hot days, storing moisturiser in the fridge - this may cool the skin
Treating active eczema can also help. Use steroids from your doctor or nurse on any ares of skin that are red and angry looking. On darker skin, active eczema may appear lighter or darker in colour rather than red.
Antihistamines are not often helpful in eczema. Sometimes, your doctor or nurse may suggest a short course of antihistamines that help with sleep. But, these are not recommended in young children.
See more KidsHealth content on eczema
This page last reviewed 23 June 2023.
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