Stop the itch, with a visit to the doctor

By J. Bergman, MD, FRCPC and D. R. Thomas, MD, FRCPC

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Itching is a common experience, however if it starts to interfere with you or your child's daily activities, it can be challenging to cope. Eczema refers to several different conditions where the skin is red, irritated and may sometimes form small, pus-filled bumps. The most common type of eczema is called atopic dermatitis. Eczema tends to run in families, so having family members with eczema increases the chance of you developing it. This skin condition usually begins before 2 years of age and becomes less common in older children and adults.

Signs and symptoms

  • Itching or burning
  • Dry skin
  • Location of the rash
  • For infants, the face, arms and legs are often affected
  • For children 4-10 years, the rash is most likely found at bends of the elbows, behind the knees, backs of the wrists and ankles, sides of the neck and earlobes
  • Red, scaly and crusty, made worse by repeatedly scratching
  • Infection is very common

What can make it worse?

  • Soap, bubble bath, detergents, fabric softeners and products containing perfume
  • Bathing too often, especially if you don't use a moisturizer after. For more skin care information click on www.dermatologycare.ca
  • Sweating can make you feel itchy
  • Any skin infection can cause eczema
  • Allergies to certain foods, such as eggs, milk, nuts, peanuts, fish, shellfish, wheat and soy
  • Triggers in the environment, such as house dust mites and pet dander

Medical treatments available from your doctor

Itch relief

You can use antihistamines such as hydroxyzine (Benadryl®) at bedtime to help with your itching.

Anti-inflammatory medicines

Topical corticosteroids (TCS)

  • Considered by doctors to be the standard treatment for eczema
  • Always start using the lowest potency possible and do not stay on for longer than suggested by your doctor
  • Useful to prevent flare-ups
  • Low potency corticosteroids are best used in the skin folds, face and neck
  • Moderate potency steroids are needed for areas with thicker skin or areas where flare-ups occur more frequently
  • Side-effects can happen if you use the drug for too long, too often, or too much

Topical calcineurin inhibitors

  • Pimecrolimus (Elidelâ„¢ 1% cream) and Tacrolimus (Protopicâ„¢0.03% and 0.1%ointment)
  • These newer medicines do not contain steroids and are usually used when other treatments are not effective on your skin
  • Only recommended for use for those over 2 years of age.
  • Use at the first signs of a flare-up to control your symptoms, then use on and off when necessary
  • You may experience burning or stinging after applying to your skin

Control of infections

Children and teens with eczema are more likely to get skin infections. If your child has a fever and you notice the infected areas are red and warm and may have bumps filled with pus, call your doctor immediately. Antibiotic medicines are available for treatment.

Although eczema is a common problem, it can cause a great deal of distress, especially for very young children. The bothersome itch, skin irritation and flare-ups can be successfully managed and controlled with the help of your doctor. For more information, please visit eczemaguide.ca.


About SkinCareGuide:
The SkinCareGuide Network of dermatology-related websites was founded by a prestigious group of international dermatologists. It provides comprehensive information for patients and physicians about the skin, its care and various skin conditions and treatments. All content is reviewed by an independent Board of Medical Advisors to ensure that the information is accurate, unbiased and up-to-date. This information is not intended to replace a consultation with your own physician.


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