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Eczema is a condition found in about 15-20% of children where dry, itchy patches of skin become uncomfortable, irritated and sore. There is much discussion about the reason why eczema is so common but scientists do not know definitively why or how it occurs.
There is also much talk about how we can prevent eczema or make it less severe even before a child is born. It appears to run in families, suggesting a genetic predisposition, and scientists are researching whether anything can be done to prevent or reduce it: should we avoid certain foods, or are there ways to adapt our lifestyles to reduce the impact?
Here are a few tips:
Breastfeeding exclusively for the first four months of a baby's life may help to protect against eczema. Research has shown that this is the case and that longer term breastfeeding protects against other allergies too. The Government recommends breastfeeding exclusively for the first six months of a baby's life.
Cow's milk can have an allergic reaction and cause eczema in children. However, if you fear this may be the case, you need to discuss it with your doctor as cows milk shouldn't be removed from a child's diet without careful consultation. Even formulas that contain cow's milk could induce an allergic reaction, but again consult your doctor. Soya based formula and goat's milk formula are not recommended but again, the doctor can advise.
Certain foods you eat while breast-feeding may result in a flare-up and if you suspect certain foods to be a trigger, you should consult your doctor. There is no conclusive evidence to support this, but it may be the case. Don't change your diet unless you have first discussed it with your doctor.
Probiotics as a supplement or in food such as yoghurt has been shown to reduce the chance of your child developing eczema. Research continues in this area.
What can be done to help the situation?
Keep a diary - to help identify if food or other activities or environments trigger a bad reaction or flare up.
House mites are believed to trigger eczema although the evidence is inconclusive. Try to reduce dust in the home by using a damp cloth rather than a dry one when cleaning. Use cotton sheets and wash them at a high temperature each week. Vacuum the mattress weekly and air the room frequently.
Wear cotton clothing as synthetic fibres may make things worse.
Keep cool and avoid overheating as this can make eczema more severe. Keep homes warm but not hot.
Keep nails short to prevent children scratching too much.
Eczema can be a very difficult condition to live with, at best it's uncomfortable whilst severe eczema may have a severe impact on your child's ability to develop normally as they will be constantly distracted by the pain. Whilst there is no final cure, follow the advice above and you may be able to relieve the symptoms. Can you tell us any other tips that have helped relieve symptoms in your own children?