A Parent's Guide to Childhood Eczema

It is thought that between 15-20 per cent of children suffer from eczema, making it the most common skin disease affecting children. Nina Goad of the British Skin Foundation explains the causes and symptoms of this irritating and painful disorder

When people talk about eczema in children, they’re usually referring to ‘atopic’ eczema. This dry inflammation of the skin is the most common type and it’s often found in people who also suffer from asthma and/or hay fever. An alternative name for it is ‘atopic dermatitis’.

Children under one year old may have a different type, ‘seborrheic’ eczema, sometimes known as ‘cradle cap’.

The symptoms

Atopic eczema can occur on any part of the body, including the face, but the areas most commonly affected are the bends of the elbows, around the knees and around the wrists and neck. Itching, burning and painful skin can, in severe cases, break down and become infected. During a flare-up, you may notice small water blisters on the hands and feet or the skin may become wet and weepy.

As any parent of an eczema sufferer can confirm, it’s more than a mere annoyance. The impact of the disease on the family of a patient is enormous.

The irritation can keep a child or baby awake and crying night after night. The parents can’t sleep either because they’re desperately trying to ease their child’s symptoms. Siblings can feel neglected or left out because of the constant attention required by the eczema sufferer.

The distress of the child who has the disease cannot be underestimated. In addition to the obvious physical symptoms, sleep deprivation can cause exhaustion and bad temper during the day. In fact, according to research published in the British Journal of Dermatology, the quality of life for children with serious skin conditions is impaired to the same extent as it is for those with chronic illnesses such as epilepsy, renal disease and diabetes.

The highly visible nature of eczema can affect a child’s self-esteem and they may even experience bullying as a result of their appearance. Many of the problems encountered by sufferers arise from a lack of understanding about the disease. For example, contrary to what some people may think, it is not infectious or  related to cleanliness or hygiene.


Atopic eczema (as well as asthma and hay fever) tends to run in families. If either parent has suffered, there’s every chance that their children will too.

We do know that many external factors can also make eczema worse. These include heat, dust, and contact with irritants such as soap or detergents.

Being unwell, for example, having a cold, can make eczema flare up, and it’s also thought that stress may play a part.


Unfortunately, there is currently no cure for atopic eczema, but there are many ways to control the symptoms. Bear in mind that in most children the condition will improve as they get older.

If you think your child has eczema, it’s important that you see your GP, who’ll be able to diagnose the disease or may refer you to a skin specialist called a ‘dermatologist’.

The treatments most often used are moisturisers and topical steroid creams or ointments. For more information, see the other articles about eczema on our site.

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