Every parent whose child suffers from eczema knows how distressing it can be to watch their youngster scratch themselves raw. Many young eczema sufferers struggle to control their itching and can end up with painful broken skin, making the condition worse and increasing the chance of infection. But being told to ‘stop scratching’ is one of the most annoying things that an eczema sufferer hears.
As a parent, it can be difficult to know what to do and how best to help your child handle the urge to itch. The discomfort of eczema is unpleasant in itself, but it can also lead to sleepless nights which make the impact worse.
In this article, we look at some of the strategies which have helped us and other parents in reducing the urge to itch.
Why does eczema make you itchy?
Roughly one in five children in the UK are affected by eczema, which makes the skin hot, dry and very itchy. The itch is generally known as the worst symptom of eczema as it is incessant and only gets worse when scratched.
Most eczema flare-ups are triggered by the ‘itch-scratch cycle’ which is when itching leads to scratching, which in turn leads to more itching. It’s thought that scratching makes an eczema itch worse because it releases inflammatory mediators which leads to the development of more eczema and more dry skin.
The dry skin caused by eczema stimulates the nerve endings in the skin, sending a message to the brain that it is itchy, and the brain will respond with a behaviour which is often scratching that itch.
Seven ways to help your child avoid scratching
- Cold Packs – Pressing something cold such as a cold pack, bottle of water or even an ice pack wrapped in a tea towel can help to ease the itchiness of eczema. This is an excellent way of instantly relieving your child from itchy skin, and while it isn’t a permanent solution or fix, it can be used throughout the day as and when the itching gets worse. Instant ice packs are great when you are out and about.
- Keep emollients in the fridge – smoothing on cold emollient is a great way to soothe a localised itch. Rather than filling up your fridge with huge tubs of emollient, ask your GP to include smaller tubes in your child’s prescription for this purpose.
- Tapping – Another great way to help your little ones to avoid scratching themselves raw is to lightly tap the itch with your fingers until it goes away. It’s thought that light tapping causes a vibration on the skin which can interfere with the nerve signals that cause the itch.
- Distraction – For itches that just won’t go, you can try the distraction strategy. Encourage your child to play with fiddly toys such as Lego or a Rubik’s cube. Most kids will scratch more when they are tired or relaxed watching telly, so give them something to occupy their hands during these times. Sometimes even something as simple as putting a loose elastic band around your child’s wrist and getting them to twang it against their wrist will make them focus on another part of their body other than the itch.
- Eczema mittens – Many children with eczema will scratch during the night when they aren’t even aware they are doing it. Getting them to sleep in ScratchSleeves eczema mittens or pyjamas is a great way to tackle overnight scratching and prevent them from doing any damage to their skin in their sleep. Also, remember to clip their nails regularly.
- Itch relief creams – Some creams containing anti-itch agents (crotamiton or lauromacrogols) can be bought over the counter. Your GP can prescribe other creams such as doxepin, which has antihistamine action when applied in cream form. We use E45 Itch Relief cream which is licensed for anyone over 1 month old.
- A lukewarm bath – For some children, a lukewarm bath does the trick, and with a few bath toys added it can serve as a useful distraction too. Don’t let them soak for too long otherwise you might cause the skin to become dry and remember to apply lots of emollient afterwards.
These strategies work for our family. Tell us what works for yours on our Facebook page.