Old Man Winter is upon us, which means we have to take extra steps to stay dry and warm. A new parent might not think consider how dry skin can affect a child. Our resident expert, Dr. Kendall Sprott, says this season puts young children at high risk for eczema.

Eczema or atopic dermatitis is a chronic skin condition frequently seen in babies. It often is associated with asthma and allergies. Food allergy also may be an aggravating factor in eczema, and care should be taken when introducing new foods to babies with the dry skin condition.

Dry patches can occur on different parts of the body, but skin creases (behind the knees and ears, the buttocks and at the elbows) and the scalp (in babies) are commonly affected. The itch is due to histamine, which causes blood vessels to dilate, resulting in skin redness and swelling. The severity of eczema can vary and tends to worsen with very cold or very hot temperatures.

It’s important to try to keep the skin as close to normal as possible. It’s much easier to reverse mild skin symptoms (redness and superficial dryness). It takes a much longer time to heal skin that is cracked, oozing or roughened to the point of becoming leathery. Since our skin surface is covered with bacteria, cracks or scratches allow entry below the surface, resulting in infection. Primary treatment is keeping the skin moist and avoiding infection.

Use moisturizing soaps to help preserve the oils. Not using soap or using oatmeal baths also has been effective. The next step is to keep the skin moist with lotions and creams. Be aware that some children may be sensitive to ingredients or scents in moisturizing products. It’s important to moisturize as soon as possible after bathing to minimize skin water evaporation.

Lotions will have a larger water content than creams and will be less effective when the eczema is moderate. Ointments or butters (cocoa, shea) act as barriers to lock in moisture and may be necessary for the more severe forms.

Antibiotics, either topical or oral, may be necessary when the damaged, inflamed skin is infected. Topical steroids are used to reduce inflammation and itch. Chronic steroid use on the skin can reduce the amount of skin pigment. Because of the close association of food allergy and eczema, an evaluation by a pediatric allergist may be helpful. Common food allergies in young children include cow’s milk, egg, wheat, soy, corn and some types of berries. Eliminating and/or careful introduction or reintroduction of foods to look for an effect on the skin may be useful.

This blog post is not to be used in replacement of a doctor visit. Please consult a physician for all health care needs.

Tell us what you think of the advice or ask a question of your own in our comment section. We hoped this helped.

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