Your skin is red and sore. It may even look scaly. You itch like crazy. You know
you haven't been near poison
ivy and you don't have chickenpox,
but you're starting to worry that you're slowly turning into some kind of scaly creature
from a monster movie. No need to worry. It's just eczema.
What Is Eczema?
(say: EK-zeh-ma) is also called atopic dermatitis (say: ay-TOP-ik der-muh-TIE-tis).
Atopic refers to someone who is likely to develop an allergy
to something. Dermatitis means that the skin
is inflamed, or red and sore.
Eczema makes your skin dry, red, and itchy. Sometimes you may even break out in
a rash. It's a chronic (say: KRAH-nik) condition, which means that it comes and goes.
If you have eczema, you're not alone. About 1 out of every 10 kids develops eczema.
Most kids who have eczema got it before they turned 5 years old, but you can get it
when you're older than 5. The good news is that more than half of the kids who have
eczema today will be over it by the time they are teenagers.
Why Do Kids Get Eczema?
Skin has special cells that react when they come in contact with anything that
irritates them. They make the skin inflamed to protect it. If you have eczema, you
have more of these special cells than other people do. These cells overreact when
something triggers them and they start to work overtime. That's what makes your skin
red, sore, and itchy.
No one is really sure why people get eczema. It's not contagious
— no one can catch it from you and you can't catch it from anyone else. Kids
who get eczema often have family members with hay fever (it makes them sneeze and
have a runny nose), asthma
(trouble breathing), or other allergic conditions. Some scientists think these kids
may be "genetically predisposed" to get eczema, which means characteristics have been
passed on from parents through genes
that make a kid more likely to get it.
About half of the kids who get eczema will also someday develop hay fever or asthma
themselves. Eczema is not an allergy itself, but allergies can be a trigger factor
for eczema. That means that if you have allergies, your eczema may flare up sometimes.
Some things that can set off eczema include:
soaps, detergents, or perfumes
hot and sweaty skin
dry winter air with little moisture
other things that can irritate your skin, such as contact with scratchy fabrics
(like wool) or dust mites in your bedsheets
How Do I Know If I Have Eczema?
If you have a rash, don't panic! Most rashes go away. But if you have eczema, the
rash may go away at first — and then it comes back again and again.
Not all rashes itch. But eczema is itchy, itchy, itchy! It often starts in the
folds inside your elbows and on the back of your knees. It can also appear on your
face and other parts of your body. Many things besides eczema can cause a rash. That's
why your doctor is the
best person to see to figure out what's causing your rash.
A Happy Ending Without Eczema
You may need some moisturizing lotion or cream to control the dryness and itchiness.
Some people need stronger medicines called corticosteroids. Steroid ointment or cream
is rubbed on your skin to help calm the inflammation. Your doctor might suggest you
try an antihistamine, a medicine that comes in pill or liquid form, to help control
the itching. And if all that scratching leads to an infection, you may need an antibiotic.
None of these eczema medicines will cure you forever, but they can help make your
skin more comfortable and less red.
Here are some other important steps to take:
Don't scratch the itch! This might seem impossible, but do your best not to. When
you scratch, it makes your skin sore and sometimes more itchy. The skin can even break
open, bleed, and become infected with bacteria. If you have a super-itchy spot, wet
a washcloth with cool water and apply it to the skin.
Keep your fingernails cut short. You're less likely to break your skin open if
you scratch an itch.
Take short baths or showers with warm water. Hot water can make you itch more.
Have your mom or dad ask your doctor if it's OK for you to use oatmeal soaking products
in your bath to help control the itching. Avoid soaps that are scented and use ones
that have moisturizer in them.
When you're done in the tub or shower, don't rub your skin dry with a rough towel.
That just irritates your skin more. Gently pat it dry to get the water off. Then put
on some moisturizing cream or lotion to keep your skin from getting too dry. You can
use the moisturizer several times a day.